The U.S. Supreme Court sent an important case on patenting human genes back to an Appeals Court on Monday, potentially putting off any final decision for years.
The Court set aside a ruling that said Myriad Genetics could patent the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are linked to breast and ovarian cancers, in light of a conflicting ruling in a similar case, Reuters reported.
At issue is whether a single human gene, isolated from its cell and chromosome, is a natural product or a patentable piece of intellectual property.
The answer could have wide-reaching implications for the biotechnology sector, which relies on extensive research about genetic niches to create tailored therapies. If the fruits of such research could become essentially open-source, it could make it unprofitable to develop many products--including most of the emerging new field of personalized medicine. The industry believes that a ruling that genes cannot be patented could undermine many existing patents, too.
The Supreme Court ruled last week in a different case that companies cannot patent observations about natural phenomena. On Monday, it asked the lower court to have another look at the Myriad case to view how it may relate to that decision.
“The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further consideration,” the Court wrote in its ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union says it hopes the lower court will rule against Myriad. “In light of recent rulings from the Court that mere laws of nature cannot be patented, we hope that the lower court will come to the correct conclusion this time around,” the ACLU’s Chris Hansen said in a statement. “It’s inconceivable that a company can own a patent on something as naturally occurring as DNA.”