The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a case today, Monday, April 15, on the issue of patenting human genes. The case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, centers around the Myriad Genetics company’s patents on the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are mutated genes that can increase the chance of women getting breast and ovarian cancer.
Because of their patent, Myriad Genetics holds a monopoly on genetic testing for the presence of these genes in individuals. The results of these tests help guide medical decisions, and the tests are valuable tools. Myriad claims that, without the patents, companies would not be as willing to fund genetic discoveries.
“Countless companies and investors have risked billions of dollars to research and develop advances under this promise of stable patent protection,” said Gregory Castanias, a Washington, D.C, lawyer arguing Myriad’s case.
Bearing News asked RBHS students:
1. When should biological innovations that utilize the inherent traits of organisms be allowed to be patented?
2. What do you see in the future of science as far as patents are concerned? What legal issues will come up?
Julian John, sophomore
“They should be allowed to be patented when everyone thinks it’s okay to allow that, like when it’s socially acceptable. So if the Supreme Court passes a law for that to happen, and everyone feels like that’s okay, because — they won’t let it pass if everyone’s not okay with it passing.”
“… the patenting of Oxycotin is about to expire, so people can make their own knock-off brand or whatever, so for patents in the future — if someone makes a patent for [genes], and it expires, then there’s just going to be a whole bunch of other companies doing the same thing.”
Sienna Trice, senior
“As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the natural processes of life, and it doesn’t cause more side-effects than it causes positive outcomes, because if there’s more negative outcomes than positive outcomes — and as long as we can keep it controlled, and make sure it’s very controlled [and] kept under control — I think it’ll be fine.”
“People are going to start talking about their rights … and how their rights have to do with genes and if they deserve to be patented or not, and whether that is a human right or goes against human rights. I think that’ll be the biggest legal issue. Well the first legal issue.”
Riley Widhalm, sophomore
“I don’t think that they should patent the genes, because it’s less researchers researching that could possibly come up with a cure, and I think that they should have as many people working on that as possible.”
“I don’t have a lot of background knowledge about patents on genes and all that, but I think that the more that we’re — the more information that we’re exposed to, the more people know about our genes, I think the more patents they’re going to make, because everyone just wants to kind of have a hold on something that could be big.”
Charles Shang, senior
“I think that as long as — if a scientist group wants to study this, if another company has patented it, I think that scientists should still be allowed to study it without having to pay any fees or go through any red tape, because it’s in the spirit of improving peoples’ lives. But say it’s been patented and someone wants to profit off of that research, then they would have to go through the legal patents, but as long as it’s just research, I think it should just be free to use.”
“I think patents in general work against science, because it prevents people from studying things, looking into things. But at the same time, I think patents are a good idea, because it prevents people from stealing others’ ideas and using them for profit. I don’t know how it’s probably going to end up, but I think we do need a balance between using it for purely intellectual purposes and using it for commercial purposes.”
Scott McAfee, junior
“If it’s a gene that’s made, that’s not just been discovered, because if it’s a gene that’s already there, anyone should have a say in that, but if you make your own gene in-house that you spent years and years of research on, you should get credit for that and be able to patent it, I think, or if it’s some magical nanotechnology that does gene work, that I’m pretty sure somebody’s working on. That kind of stuff should be patentable, but just like a gene in general, that just seems weird. It’s like patenting a finger; it just doesn’t make sense.”
“I think it’s going to turn up like the Apple-Samsung case. Someone’s going to find some new cure for something. It’s going to be that someone finds a new technology, someone has one similar to it. The companies are going to sue, the scientists are going to be like, ‘Oh, there’s a great new technology.’ They’re not going to care that someone else did it, per se. It’s going to be the companies that they’re working for. I think that’s going to be the new problem. The companies that employ scientists to do genetic research are going to want more money any way they can, and the scientists are going to be like, ‘Hey, let’s not.’”
Tahliya Richardson, senior
“I don’t think that should be allowed at all because that would give them a great advantage over people and cause fear amongst others, like they have this control. I don’t think that should be okay.”
“I do think, as time goes on, people may result to that and think that’s okay with science. But I don’t think that would be okay to do that. But I think that as time goes on, and people find cures for things … they may think that they can control it. I think that’ll happen pretty frequently when it comes to science.”
By Atreyo Ghosh