Posted: June 29th, 2013 by Militant Libertarian
In a unanimous ruling, the United States Supreme Court ruled today that human genes cannot be patented. The ruling invalidates the thousands of patents that have already been granted on human genes, including the patent by Myriad Genetics on the BRCA breast cancer genes which the company says no one else can research or even detect without paying it a royalty. Click here to read the complete ruling.
“Myriad did not create anything,” said Justice Clarence Thomas. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”
Well, exactly. This point should have been obvious to the lower courts, too, but in today’s world of corporate domination over seemingly everything, gene industry lawyers were able to argue that patent protection would somehow inspire more innovation and research. “The biotechnology industry had warned that an expansive ruling against Myriad could threaten billions of dollars of investment,” wrote Reuters.
But exactly the opposite is true. Gene patents restricted research and created medical monopolies that raised prices for consumers. Even USA Today seemingly gets this point, saying, “The decision represents a victory for cancer patients, researchers and geneticists who claimed that a single company’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes forced women to have breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.”
The ACLU, which argued the case before the Court, said, “By invalidating these patents, the Court lifted a major barrier to progress in further understanding how we can better treat and prevent diseases.”
Corporate efforts to influence the Supreme Court ultimately failed
Had the Supreme Court upheld the patentability of human genes, it would have unleashed a horrifying new era of corporations and universities rushing to claim monopoly patent protection on every gene in the human genome. Virtually no one in the media covered this angle other than Natural News. We warned readers that everything found in nature could then be patented: blades of grass, insects, human ears, eye colors, hair colors… anything encoded with DNA.
We also pointed out that Angelina Jolie’s carefully orchestrated announcement of a double mastectomy following BRCA gene testing seemed timed to be part of a public relations campaign engineered by the biotech industry to influence the Supreme Court decision. We also challenged Jolie to publicly denounce patents on human genes, which she never did.
It’s clear that powerful forces were at work behind the scenes to try to influence this Supreme Court decision, but they failed. Ultimately, the court discovered a moment of unanimous sanity… something we see so rarely that perhaps it deserves patent protection, too.
Huge loss for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries
It’s important to note that this decision is a huge loss for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, both of which relentlessly seek total domination over all forms of life on the planet through monopoly patent protection. The biotech industry, of course, would love to patent all seeds and food crops — even ones it hasn’t genetically engineered. And the pharmaceutical industry would love to patent every human gene, thereby claiming literal ownership over every human being born into the world.
Myriad Genetics tried every desperate argument to convince the court that human genes should be patentable by corporations. They even rolled out a whacky “baseball bat theory” which claims it’s an “invention” to decide where to start and end a gene sequence:
“A baseball bat doesn’t exist until it’s isolated from a tree. But that’s still the product of human invention to decide where to begin the bat and where to end the bat.” – Myriad lawyer Gregory Castanias.
That absurd argument claims that the mere deciding of which genes to snip out of DNA strands somehow makes all genes corporate property. Thankfully, the court did not agree with the baseball bat theory. As Chief Justice John Roberts explained:
“The baseball bat is quite different. You don’t look at a tree and say, well, I’ve cut the branch here and cut it here and all of a sudden I’ve got a baseball bat. You have to invent it.”
Huge victory for humanity
Ultimately, this decision is a tremendous victory for all humankind because it prevents the power-hungry, evil-bent medical and biotech corporations from claiming ownership over genetic sequences that already occur in nature.
This ruling means the biotech industry cannot patent common plants and animals, either. They can’t patent human body parts or human gene sequences. Yes, the industry can still patent synthetically-created genes, said the Supreme Court, but that’s something they would actually have to create rather than merely discover in an already-existing organism.
Today’s ruling also means that men and women will have access to far less expensive testing for gene sequences in their own bodies. Currently, women who want to test themselves for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes must pay as much as $4,000 for the test due to the monopoly “ownership” of those genes by Myriad Genetics. But now that the Supreme Court has ruled such patents are invalid, prices for the test should drastically fall over time as competition enters the picture. Ultimately, the test could eventually be offered for as little as $100.
The ruling also means that other companies can conduct research on those genes without first seeking permission from Myriad. This will actually spur more innovation, potentially leading to more advanced genetic analysis tests that might help people better understand their health risks (and hopefully encourage them to change their diets and lifestyle choices to avoid expressing those genes).
In a world that seems increasingly dominated by corporate monopolies and biotechnology insanity, this ruling is a breath of fresh air. It confirms that corporations cannot patent naturally-occurring things which have been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years, and it confirms that when you have a child through an act of genetic replication, corporations cannot force you to pay royalties for your own child.
This is a decision of fundamental freedom, which is why I’m shocked the court actually ruled this way. This must be one of those rare moments of sanity in a Supreme Court that otherwise seems intent on destroying human liberty, dignity and justice.
Decision shows the important work of ACLU in protecting human rights against corporate domination
We must all thank the ACLU on this decision, as it was the ACLU which argued this to victory.
“Over the last 30 years, the U.S. Patent Office has issued patents on thousands of human genes, including genes associated with colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and many other devastating diseases. The status quo meant that companies controlling gene patents had the right to stop all other scientists from examining, studying, testing, and researching our genes,” the ACLU wrote in a press release.
The ACLU further wrote:
We celebrate the Court’s ruling as a victory for civil liberties, scientific freedom, patients, and the future of personalized medicine. It also demonstrates the power of creating alliances and fighting for the public interest. The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed the case four years ago on behalf of twenty plaintiffs, including organizations representing over 150,000 medical professionals, geneticists, breast cancer and women’s health advocacy groups, and patients. Few thought we had a chance against the decades-long Patent Office practice as well as the entrenched industry position. But litigation can be a strong tool in producing change, never more than when diverse communities come together. Here, the medical, scientific, and patient communities united, and were soon joined by many others, eventually including the U.S. government. We honor the contributions everyone made to our success today.
The ACLU, by the way, has also filed suit against the NSA’s Patriot Act phone surveillance.