Gene Patents

Document Date: March 21, 2007

On May 12, 2009, the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (PUBPAT) filed a lawsuit charging that patents on two human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer are unconstitutional and invalid.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted thousands of patents on human genetic sequences. While the purpose of the patent system is to encourage innovation, increasingly human gene patents appear to be inhibiting biomedical research and interfering with patient care. For example, the Utah-based company Myriad Genetics has patented two genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – and certain mutations along these genes that have been associated with an increased risk of certain forms of breast and ovarian cancer. The high licensing and diagnostic testing fees charged by Myriad have forced some researchers to discontinue research on breast cancer and have prevented women from having access to screening for mutations. In addition to inhibiting freedom of research, patents on human genes raise troubling questions about the right of patients to access information about themselves and whether parts of human beings should be patentable at all.

More on ACLU’s gene-patening case…

> Panel discussion about BRCA testing and gene patents
Tania Simoncelli, ACLU Science Advisor, spoke about the civil liberties issues surrounding gene patents at the New York premiere of “In the Family,” a documentary film about BRCA mutations and genetic testing

> Blog: BRCA, Genetic Testing, and Civil Liberties: It’s What Christina Applegate, Oprah, and PBS Are All Talking About