While the legal system plays catch-up with the ever-changing facets of the Digital Age, so to are the medical sciences trying to figure out lawtastic minefields such as stem cell research, cloning and genetics. That last one in particular featured recently in a decision handed down by Federal Court of Australia, with its sitting judges ruling that yes, companies can indeed patent genes.
As Michael Slezak over at the New Scientist writes, the matter can still be heard in the High Court, but as it stands, all genes are up for grabs… so to speak. According to the story, the matter was originally raised 20 years ago by a company called Myriad Genetics, which attempted to patent a series of gene mutations related to ovarian and breast cancer.
The end objective for the company was to secure exclusive rights to sell cancer tests based on the genes locally.
Surprisingly, it took until early last year for the case to be handled. At that point, the judge, Justice John Nicholas, determined that genes could indeed be patented:
Justice John Nicholas, said that genes isolated from the body are exactly the same as the ones inside the body, but are patentable because isolating them from the body put them in an “artificial state of affairs”.
Plaintiffs Cancer Voices Australia and one Yvonne D’Arcy pushed the matter again and on Friday, the Federal Court not only maintained the same position, but made an amendment:
Agreeing with arguments made by Myriad Genetics, the five judges present ruled that Justice Nicholas had erred. In their judgment, they write: “The chemical and physical makeup of the isolated nucleic acid renders it not only artificial but also different from its natural counterpart.”