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U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Breyer Participates in Medical Patent Case After His Wife Quickly Sells Stock

Posted Dec 8, 2011 12:12 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Thanks to a last-minute stock sale by his wife, Justice Stephen G. Breyer participated in oral arguments on Wednesday in a case that considers whether companies may patent a procedure used in personalized medicine.

The company seeking to defend its patent, Prometheus Laboratories, waited until Tuesday to disclose in a court filing that it had been acquired by a Nestle subsidiary in July, report the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). Breyer’s wife, Joanna, sold her stock Wednesday morning shortly before oral arguments.

Breyer has previously expressed skepticism about patents for medical diagnostic tests and his vote could be crucial, the Wall Street Journal says.

A decision in the case could affect the future of personalized medicine, according to Reuters. At issue is whether Prometheus has a valid patent on a method used to determine the correct dosages for patients with Crohn’s disease. The procedure relies on correlations between drug dosages and metabolites in patients’ blood.

Says the Wall Street Journal, “Justices at times appeared to struggle with how to distinguish patents on laws of nature, which are prohibited, from patents that apply the laws of nature, which are allowable.”

The case is Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories Inc.

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