A victory for science at the Supreme Court

In the most “duh” decision in who knows how long, the Supreme Court ruled today that large, profit-driven corporations (or anyone, for that matter) cannot patent naturally occurring genes:

Pronouncing what may seem like a patent truism, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that biotech researchers have to create something to get monopoly protection to study and apply the phenomenon. Because Myriad Genetics, Inc., “did not create anything,” the Court struck down its patent on isolating human genes from the bloodstream, unchanged from their natural form. Because Myriad did create a synthetic form of the genes, however, that could be eligible for a patent, the Court concluded.

The decision was a major blow to a company that believed it had a right to be the sole user and analyst of two human genes that show a high risk, for women found to have them in their blood, of breast and ovarian cancer.

This is a huge win for science, future research, and, frankly, human lives. Aside from the obvious dubiousness of patenting something that isn’t man-made, it was unconscionably unethical for Myriad Genetics to pursue this case at all. They should feel nothing but shame and moral grief at the human life they were inherently putting at risk. This was a rare excellent decision from the SCOTUS. (Surprisingly, they didn’t randomly and arbitrarily decide, for no discernible reason whatsoever, to also declare that any of the genes involved were people.)

8 Responses

  1. Is it really a victory if everyone knew how it was going to go from the start?

    I look at this through the lens of what I like to call the “legal deity”. “God” holds the patent on natural things, just like natural rights. And it’s nothing to do with religion, the government, and in this case, individuals, simply can’t plant their flag on some things, it’s outside of either of their competencies.

  2. I’m a little surprised the case got this far… that in itself is a troubling indication of how arrogant and overreaching corporate interests have become.

  3. What? Corporations can’t file lawsuits and appeal them? It has nothing to do with that. Anyone or any group could have done the same thing.

  4. The fact that the case wasn’t thrown out permanently at a much lower level suggests that at least some levels of our system thought Myriad had a shred of credibility to their claim… sufficient to pass it on up the chain. That’s sad.

  5. If lower courts could throw cases out and preclude appeals to higher courts, we wouldn’t have Roe v. Wade and bunches of others, hell, if that was true, we wouldn’t have any need for higher courts in the first place.

    What’s more, this is the way we get precedents, if it had gone no further than the trial court, the matter would have established no precedent. If it had happened at the appeals level, it would have only been established in that appeals circuit.

    What I find sad is that you don’t seem to understand that, or you don’t care. Either way, much sadness. The fact that it went to the top is a good thing, not a travesty of justice.

  6. Courts can decline to hear and review any lower-court ruling; it’s sad that you don’t know this.

    It’s also sad that corporations continue in the delusion that they have rights, and that the courts let them get away with it.

  7. People have rights and corporations are made of people who don’t lay down their rights the moment they join together in a group. The only delusion present in the one that you are harboring, that the government has unlimited power to regulate and mess about with corporations. A position I assume you would not continue to hold if the government went after the corporation called American Atheists, or the corporation called NAACP or the one called the ACLU.

  8. And yes, courts can decline to hear cases, but establish no precedents when they do so, so I say what I said before: now we have a precedent, in your world, it would still be an open question, thankfully we are not in your world but in the real one.

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