To Patent or Not to Patent- That is the Question

April 18, 2013
Emily Hause

iStock_000015742269SmallThe United States Supreme Court is hearing an interesting case this week regarding Myriad Genetics’ right to patent the cancer-causing genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA2. The court’s decision, when made, will have important implications for future physicians and researchers with regards to their ability to do research and work in the ever-evolving field of genetics. Basically, if you’re planning to practice medicine, as most of you reading this blog are, the outcome of this case is very important for your future practice!

The essential question at stake is whether or not you can patent a gene or a particular variant of a gene. Patent law is very clear about not being able to patent products solely found in nature; for instance, you can’t patent a tree. However, Myriad defends their ability to patent the genes and likens it to patenting a baseball bat. Yes, the bat comes from a tree, but human input changed it appreciably so that it can be patented.

The justices are hearing arguments and trying to decide if extracting and isolating a particular gene changes it enough so that it is possible to patent it. One of the key arguments is that if companies are not able to patent genes, they will have no incentive to do genetic research and funding could potentially drop. This would restrict the growing and increasingly important field of genetic research. On the other hand, patenting genes means that Myriad can refuse to allow other companies to work on those genes, which could potentially restrict research as well.

So, as the future scientists who lives will be dramatically impacted by this decision, what do you think? Should Myriad be allowed to keep their patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 or are genes inherently part of nature and thus not eligible to be patented?


Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over eight years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a fourth-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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