Health
7:54 am
Fri June 14, 2013

Supreme Court Says Human Genes Can't Be Patented

An illustration of the human genome.
Credit Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that segments of naturally-occurring human genes cannot be patented. The ruling may change the focus of genomic research, but it won't stop it.

Professor Andrew Torrance specializes in biotechnology patent law at the University of Kansas. He says the ruling falls hardest on companies that have invested billions of dollars, hoping to profit from patents on human gene fragments like those that help reveal a person’s risk for breast cancer.

“I think that its practical effect will be to lop many tens of billions of dollars off the investments that a lot of biotech and pharmaceutical companies—and even some universities—made in locating and sequencing and patenting these natural-source genomes," he says.

Torrance says there are a few companies in Kansas that may be affected by the ruling, but the greatest impact will be felt in biotech strongholds like San Francisco and Boston.

Torrance says the high court left the door open for being able to patent genes that are engineered by scientists to cure diseases and improve human performance.