Get your hands off my genes!

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented and that any existing patents on one or more of our naturally occurring 22,000 genes will now be invalid.

jeansThe case centered around Myriad Genetics patent claim on two genes associated with a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Myriad had patented both the diagnostic test for these genes and the genes themselves and held the market monopoly, charging on average $3,500 per test, a price that Angelina Jolie recently described in her New York Times article as “an obstacle for many women.”

To use the genes/jeans analogy, original store-bought jeans will likely remain non-patentable. I mean, you bought them as is – you didn’t actually do anything to them, right? But the ones you cut into shorts last summer? The ones you bedazzled with sew-on sequins? Those can be patented.

That means that foods, therapies, and diagnostics that involve genetically modified components will all likely be eligible to file for intellectual property protection. While many may believe this is essential to ensuring innovation in the biotech industry, an equal number will likely see this as stifling future research in the realm of synthetic biology.

Watch for more on this story as our legal system attempts to keep pace with advances in biotech. And keep hold of your genes—your cut-offs, of course.