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Biotech Medicine Patents The Courts United States

US District Judge Rules Gene Patents Invalid 263

Posted by samzenpus
from the base-pairs-want-to-be-free dept.
shriphani writes "A US judge has ruled that Myriad Genetics' breast cancer gene patent is invalid. Hopefully this will go a long way in ensuring that patents on genes do not stand in the way of research. From the article: 'Patents on genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are invalid, ruled a New York federal court today. The precedent-setting ruling marks the first time a court has found patents on genes unlawful and calls into question the validity of patents now held on approximately 2,000 human genes.'"
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US District Judge Rules Gene Patents Invalid

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  • Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @09:59PM (#31665936) Journal

    Hopefully this will go a long way in ensuring that patents on genes do not stand in the way of research.

    And let us also hope that financial backers and investors don't pass on the idea of investing in said research without the potential payout of a full term patent.

    As unpopular as the above statement is on Slashdot and as flawed as the patent system is, it still fulfills purposes making this at least a two sided issue. Ignoring either side is nothing but folly.

    You can revise your statement to read: Hopefully it's a net positive for gene research.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alex_guy_CA (748887) <alexNO@SPAMschoenfeldt.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:02PM (#31665958) Homepage
    However, most research and medical breakthroughs come from publicly funded money, research, and institutions. They only find their way into the corporate portfolio latter.
  • by pecosdave (536896) * on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:02PM (#31665960) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, all this groping around in my genes and telling me that they owned anything they found. Fucking lawyers.

  • Yeah. that's not lawyers! That's a wife!

  • Re:Conversely (Score:4, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:07PM (#31665992)
    Gene patents were always dubious to me, however patents on gene detection methods and kits should be fully capable of obtaining patent protection. It's like copyrights on facts vs collections.
  • Natural Resource (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LightPhoenix7 (1070028) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:09PM (#31666006)
    You can't patent coal, or wood, so why should you be able to patent a natural resource like DNA? If they create something new from it, like a new allele or treatment, I'd say that's fair game. In the end, this is an extremely important ruling, but unfortunately it's probably not the end. It will probably require the Supreme Court to make a ruling. I don't see anyone involved giving up that easily.
  • by kaltkalt (620110) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:10PM (#31666012)
    The abuse of the patent system is beyond repair. I say we completely overhaul the entire system and only grant 10 patents per year. There are not even 10 things that are patent-worthy invented in an average year. Not anymore. Combining a cellphone and a pen is not unique and nonobvious and should not be patentable. Give the 10 best, truly innovative inventions one of ten patents after an exhaustive review at the end of the year. No genetic patents, no "business method" patents. Only truly novel inventions should be patentable. Frankly I can't think of the last invention that I've seen that is worthy of a patent. 10 per year is still allowing at least 5 crap things to get an unfair monopoly that is completely undeserved.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:18PM (#31666046)

    However, most research and medical breakthroughs come from publicly funded money, research, and institutions. They only find their way into the corporate portfolio latter.

    [citation needed]

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:24PM (#31666092)

    There is absolutely no way we can grant monopolies on certain aspects of life, to anyone. Whether it is a good business proposal to found science or not, it is not correct at all.

    Patents like this come with the power to hold people ransom on existential needs. That cannot, ever, be right.

    Another reason, Gene's are nature's "programming language". Once you can read some of it, reasonable efforts will help you to understand more of it.
     
      But, there is no point or fairness in granting anyone who finds out "something" first the right to, for many years, control its use. Things will be found out because people NEED to figure them out, even without prospect to get money from patents. This is also why you don't need to patent software - just because someone needed a selectable button and did it first, that does not mean they should be able to patent it and henceforth control all selectable buttons - someone will absolutely, positively need the exact same thing and would have figured it out themselves anyways, with a reasonable degree of certainty.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:26PM (#31666104)

    The genes can't be patented, because they were discovered, not created, and not discovered in the "OMG I just discovered how to make rubber!" kind of way. They were discovered in the "I just patented New England" kind of way.

    Now, the tools and methods of discovery, those certainly should be patentable. The genes were always there, however, and we knew they were there somewhere, and the patent does not allow you to do anything with them, it just tells you where they are.

    That is why it was struck down, and that is why this won't have any serious effect on medical research. The stuff that should be patentable is patentable, the stuff that should not be patentable is no longer patentable.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:30PM (#31666136)

    No it doesn't. They can actually make proper inventions. They can invent treatments that target the gene, detection methods to find the gene, methods to remove it, alter it, whatever.

    Just because they found it doesn't mean it's patentable. It's naturally occurring, and they had nothing to do with creating it.

    Imagine if the guys at the LHC discovered another fundamental force. Should they be able to patent it and claim royalties on everyone who "takes advantage" of their discovery of "new gravity"?

    They discovered a gene. They shouldn't have patented it in the first place, they should have invested a tiny bit more to patent a efficient detection method, and still made shitloads of money.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Burdell (228580) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:32PM (#31666144)

    Do you think that an astronomer should be able to patent a planet because they saw it first? How about the particle physicists working on the LHC patenting the Higgs bosun if they find it (sorry, no gravity without a license!)? Why should someone be able to patent a naturally occurring gene, just because they found it first? If they find something original, such as an easy way to detect the presence or absence of a gene that can lead to illness, or a way to use that knowledge to treat the condition caused by the gene, patent away, but nobody should be able to patent something that has existed in thousands or millions of people for decades or centuries just because they were the first to track it down. They didn't invent or create anything.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArcherB (796902) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:32PM (#31666150) Journal

    Gene patents were always dubious to me, however patents on gene detection methods and kits should be fully capable of obtaining patent protection. It's like copyrights on facts vs collections.

    I agree. How can you patent something that already exists? It would be like discovering some previously unknown roach and slapping a patent on it. Could you charge everyone whose home gets infested by these things? It's not like you invented it. You simply found it. Genes are in every single cell in our body. You can't patent them.

    Now if you were to discover a gene sequence that does not naturally occur in nature... patent away. That might be pretty cool.

  • by BlueBoxSW.com (745855) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:33PM (#31666154) Homepage

    See the difference?

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary (547041) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:39PM (#31666192)

    Yeah, I wouldn't exactly call that win/win.

    Then you need to learn some math. Lower drug prices is a WIN for customers. No patents to prevent public research breakthroughs is a WIN for science. That's two WINs, count'em.

    If companies can't get a patent, why would they invest millions, even billions, into the research, if the moment they make a discovery, the company next door gets to profit from their research for free with ZERO seed investment.

    For the same reason companies today invest millions, even billions into contributing to open source, like the Linux kernel, even though their competitors get to profit from those contributions for free with ZERO seed investment.

    What this DOES do is essentially put all genetics research companies out of business,

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. If the only way they can contribute research is by blocking others with patents, then we don't need their "research".

    and leaves it to government organizations and government funded educational institutions to do the research.

    That's a good idea. Medical breakthroughs should be available to all citizens unencumbered by patents, and at affordable prices, and that's the best way to ensure this in the long term. Some industries, like health care, are strategically important. Moreover, with fewer private companies to drain the smart people from universities, the next generation of students would have a higher quality education. Yet another WIN.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by robotkid (681905) <alanc2052NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:43PM (#31666226)

    As unpopular as the above statement is on Slashdot and as flawed as the patent system is, it still fulfills purposes making this at least a two sided issue. Ignoring either side is nothing but folly. You can revise your statement to read: Hopefully it's a net positive for gene research.

    Good thought, especially for more tricky examples like patient-derived cell lines or naturally occurring therapeutic molecules, but in this case such worry is not warranted. Treatments, cures, diagnostics, etc are all still patentable, and they are what the investors were looking to make their money from in the first place.

    The central issue at stake was whether the discovery of a gene in and of itself, which is just a snipped of biological information, was patentable, and all the resulting technology that utilized that information would be rendered derivative works. Think about that for a moment, if someone went out and discovered a new type of fish, maybe they'd get to name it but they certainly can't claim to own all future profits made by anyone else catching and selling that fish. More to the point, if someone then discovered that the fish produced a chemical that cured some disease, they original discoverer of the fish would not have the ability to sue and say that was reverse engineering of his patented intellectual property. Discovering a gene is not terribly different - it already existed all over the world long before we had to tools to identify and study it. Discovering is different than inventing, and in the case of genes discovery by itself is a far cry from understanding how it works, much less how to manipulate it to fix a disease.

    Also, for context, the only real reason one would want to patent a gene is some sort of exclusivity clause (i.e. I discovered this breast cancer gene so now only I can work on a cure for it) or for patent trolling (now lets sue all the other folks working on breast cancer cures). Both scenarios would effectively destroy the ability for competing companies to work on the same disease, and lead to a massive gene-squatting free for all. IAAB (I am a biochemist), and I honestly can't think of any scenarios where being able to patent a naturally occurring gene would be good for either society as a whole or even just letting the market do what it does best.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:05PM (#31666326) Homepage

    So gene patents are both ethically wrong since they're patenting a discovery instead of an invention, and useless for the patent holder as well. Good to know.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot@pitabre ... org minus distro> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:06PM (#31666328) Homepage

    The device or a novel process? Yes. But you should not be able to patent the gene which effectively makes your device the only way to detect the disease. That is not what the patent system is for. It is for protecting novel inventions, not for locking up essential, basic knowledge with a toll booth.

  • by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:07PM (#31666352)

    Prior art.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sweatyboatman (457800) <(sweatyboatman) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:20PM (#31666406) Homepage Journal

    I'm sorry, this is a very poor argument.

    without patents there is no monetary incentive for identifying the function of a gene

    If you figure out the function of a gene you can then make a drug to suppress or improve the function of the gene. Or whatever else. And that drug will be, wait for it, patentable! And when that patent comes out and the FDA approves the drug, it's gonna be kinda obvious to people who should know what the drug you're patenting does to what genes and why.

    Perhaps what you mean to say is that without patents, when private industry figures out the function of a gene they will keep it to themselves. But that still doesn't make much sense. Unless you're going to take that information and make a treatment out of it, you're not going to be able to monetize it. (And as soon as you make a treatment, you're going to have to explain to the FDA how that treatment works.)

    You could, I suppose, make a treatment and not patent it (like a trade secret). But then you're running the extreme risk of having someone else steal/recreate your discovery and patent your medicine out from under you.

    Regardless, the motive to research the function of genes is that if you can figure out what a gene does (and it does something useful), you can develop patentable treatments that manipulate that gene. Patenting the gene is just the icing on the cake.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:21PM (#31666412) Journal

    Medical breakthroughs should be available to all citizens unencumbered by patents, and at affordable prices, and that's the best way to ensure this in the long term.

    You have missed my point entirely. Without massive private funding these "medical breakthroughs" (which I'm led to believe are needle-in-haystack searches) happen at a slower rate. If that sets it back more than the length of a patent (which is 20 years in the US) then it's a negative net effect on the genetic cures we find for people.

    You'll have more affordable cures for the first 20 years but after that the prices will be the same. The difference could be the number of cures and their quality.

    Just because we hate patents doesn't mean we have to shut off our brains when we reason out capitalism does it?

  • Re:Conversely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:34PM (#31666496)
    Conversely if you take the money that goes to fat upper management. massive marketing departments, and stockholder profits and plow it back into research you probably end up with more cures. The free market isn't always the most efficient way of accomplishing things despite what some of its adherents like to think.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by laughingcoyote (762272) <{moc.eticxe} {ta} {lwohtsehgrab}> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:35PM (#31666504) Journal

    But the fact still remains, any treatment, drug, etc., based upon the gene's discovery, is as patentable as it ever was. The only thing you can't patent is the gene itself, and that's quite correct. If you discover a certain isotope, and find a way to make workable fusion energy from it, you can patent your reactor, but not the isotope itself. That's exactly how the patent system is meant to work-you can patent things you invent, but not things you just find.

    That being said, it always saddens me to see "capitalism" thrown around like it's some unimpeachable, unquestionable good force. I wish people would question it, as it's sure got an awful lot of negatives. At some point, I sure hope we can find a better system.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:49PM (#31666592) Homepage Journal

    You can do all the research you like, it won't save lives. You can figure out how to make a drug that will cure [insert undesirable disease here] and publish the formula on the Internet.. watch as no-one will pay for the clinical trials to make the drug legal to sell.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @12:19AM (#31666746) Homepage Journal

    So instead of a race to mass produce the unpatentable drug you have a race to produce the drug for the unpatentable gene. Whatever machinery you want to use to create the situation, the cost of clinical trials means drug companies need exclusivity from lab to drug store. The alternative is nationalized drug creation.. not that there's anything wrong with that, but know where your argument is going.. as the trials have become too expensive to expect drug companies to do in a race.

  • by epoxide (1184881) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @12:24AM (#31666772)
    you sell less drugs, and there's less money for R&D. Pharma doesn't spend money on marketing unless it generates more revenue than it costs: they have the guys with calculators to figure that out. Spending money on buying back shares, private jets, or buying out Sirtris: yeah, that hurts R&D. Marketing the drugs to people who shouldn't be taking them (Vioxx) and then losing 3x as much in the inevitable lawsuits: yeah, that hurts R&D. Someone did a study a while back, and found that the biggest effect that direct to consumer advertising of drugs had on sales wasn't to get people to bug their doctors to write them a scrip, it was in reminding people to refill the prescriptions they already had.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @12:29AM (#31666800)

    It's ironic that we can even call this newer thinking "science." The whole point of the scientific method is to allow for peer review and improvement. For centuries, mathematicians and inventors have been building upon one another's work without compensation expectations --they were already schooled and rich enough to be in their advantaged positions. How can Galileo patent finding moons with his telescope, therefore keeping others from legally verifying there is a moon there at all? Now that everyone is educated and the Earth is overcrowded, everyone is finding the need to grab on to something intangible because the bar of competition has been raised so high beyound our humble ~1500's scientific history.

    The problem is this: someone discovers the existance of gasoline for the first time and patents it, knowing that it can be used to move vehicles, but having no clue to where, and how or for how much. By patenting it just so they can be the only ones to build a car, they're keeping all other scientists from using the now findable gasoline to create automobiles --which sardonically, is yet ANOTHER process the person will create a new patent for... This second part is the real point of patents. Patenting before you have a process to create something is absurd. Having a question in your hands has never entitled you to be the only person looking for the solution, and you wil probably die before finding a solution to patent.

    All scientists know that discoveries are unexpected, with unpredictable implications, and research leading to the random discovery is costly. However, it is merely voluntary research, having calculated costs an budgets. Governments do not sign contracts beforehand to guarantee full ownership of a cure that you may never find --that stifles the chances of finding it in the same way that OSS software bugs must not be "owned" by any one individual fixer. Scientists know full well that the discovery becomes public knowledge, but discovering provides an understanding the item that other "leechers" as many posters here would call them, would use. Ownership and entitlement are poorly understood this day and age, especially when it comes to things you cannot hide, capture or prevent the copying of for good or for evil.

  • Well put. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by epoxide (1184881) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @12:33AM (#31666812)
    Plus, a lot of the sequencing was done by a private for-profit company, Celera, at a fraction of the cost of the public effort.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:1, Insightful)

    by greentshirt (1308037) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @12:36AM (#31666834)
    If you don't think mapping out the human genome was a research milestone, you're sadly misinformed.
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @02:12AM (#31667320) Journal

    Patents aren't perfect. No form of IP is - all forms of IP are a compromise.

    But in large part, (perhaps excepting software patents and MAYBE gene patents) the concept of a "patent" gets it RIGHT!!!

    In the area of pharmaceuticals, If you do away with patents, then you lose the endless supply of 20-year-old innovation you now know as "generic drugs" because the deal with patents is that, in exchange for FULL AND COMPLETE DISCLOSURE of the patented concept, the owner/holder of the patent gets a reasonable amount of time (20 years in most cases) to exploit the patent for profit. At the end of that 20 years, the patent concepts become public domain and are carefully documented for the public domain.

    Just tonight, I took a generic form of Coreg for my blood pressure. It's a highly effective drug that cost millions to develop. Because the original drug was patented, the method of producing it was well documented and in the public domain. The result was a box of pills that extend my life at a cost of just $7 per month!

    Do away with drug patents and you won't see cheaper drugs, you'll see more expensive drugs, and a rapid halt of forward progress.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oiron (697563) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @02:40AM (#31667460) Homepage
    And if someone, purely out of random mutation naturally develops that sequence? Sue them for infringement?
  • Re:Conversely (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @02:59AM (#31667568)

    You claimed "most". Citation mentions *one*. Fail.

  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @03:41AM (#31667768)
    You can still patent the vaccine for polio (which the inventor could have patented and declined to because he thought it should be free), but you can't patent the genetic sequence of it. You can patent any treatment for breast cancer you want. However, patenting a discovery about a gene linked to breast cancer can't be done. There's nothing at all in this ruling that would jeopardize any actual or potential treatment or cure. The patent was to block research so no one could treat the "disease" as if someone patented polio was was suing anyone else working on a cure for polio.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @06:14AM (#31668432)
    You're not really this ignorant are you?

    Yes, I am. I understand that the patent system only patents creations and not discoveries. That makes me ignorant.

    Ok, I'm a researcher, I want to find out the genetic cause of some untreatable disease.. because I want the disease to be treated. Who's going to pay for my lab time?

    You either look out there for those who have posted requests for researchers and do what they ask, or you write proposals. Duh, now who's ignorant?

    Previously, I could go to industry and say "ok, here's my credentials, you get the patents, deal?" and that's where the funding could come from.

    Ah, so you are a whore who sells his soul for profit. And you blame people like me for getting in the way of you selling yourself for profit. You do all the work, they get all the rewards, and the two of you lock out everyone else. And, once the patent on the discovery is obtained, they use it to *prevent* a cure for profit for themselves at the cost of lives. And you like that system because it's easier for you to make money in that system.

    No drug companies target the genes I discovered for treatments. After all, that'd start a race and no drug company can afford to get into a race.

    So, making the first drug and patenting it to block others would make them billions, but they won't try because they would spend money and someone else might come up with something first? So, 400 years later, when the gene is known for hundreds of years and no one has started making a drug to fight it, do you think that one of them might try? No, they'll still be paralyzed because they think someone else might do it at the same time? Yup, that's consistent with your logic so far. After all, since the swine flu was well known, no one tried to make a vaccine for it. Or polio. Or HPV. Nope, those are well known viruses, so no one would ever waste money trying to cure those because someone else might also come up with a cure.
  • Re:Conversely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo (1314109) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @06:42AM (#31668580)

    and no drug company can afford to get into a race

    well they'll be poor drug companies in a few years when their current patents run out then.

    No drug companies target the genes I discovered for treatments. After all, that'd start a race and no drug company can afford to get into a race.

    Really?
    Drug companies aren't interested in potentially lucrative drug patents?
    By that logic they'd never fund your research to find the genetic cause of some untreatable disease since they'd be in a race with other companies to locate those genes and patent them.
    Which is complete bullshit.

    Drug companies are always in a race, this just moves the starting line a little further along and allows more people take part.

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