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US High Court Rejects Patents on Natural Genes



From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that businesses cannot control the rights to human genes in their natural state. Patients' rights groups are calling the decision a victory. The court, however, left room to protect the patent ownership rights related to man-made genes.

The court decided on a case involving the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics. The company had identified human genes that increase a woman's risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The company applied for and was given exclusive rights over the use of those genes.

Attorney Sandra Park works with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been approving patents on some DNA for 30 years. The problem, she says, was that Myriad used its patent rights to stop other laboratories from providing genetic testing although those laboratories were using different methods.

Miss Park says that caused genetic testing for increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer to cost more because of the lack of competition. It also prevented patients from getting a second medical opinion based on some other test.

The Supreme Court has now rejected this type of patent all nine justices agreed that because genes are products of nature, they cannot be owned by one business.

Health activists say the ruling will lower costs and improve testing for breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad Genetics also patented man-made versions of genes. The Supreme Court said patents on such man made genes are permitted because they do not exist in nature.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti.