Patent Law

Stocks Lower After Judge's 'Pigs Fly' Ruling Striking Down Gene Patents

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Many biotech stocks fell after a federal judge’s ruling Monday striking down patents for genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer, even as some observers said the long-term impact could boost genetic research.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of New York was such a surprise that the Genomics Law Report headlined its news story on the decision “Pigs Fly,” the New York Times reports.

Critics of the decision include patent lawyer Edward Reines of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who says researchers need the assurance of a patent to protect their efforts, the New York Times reported in an earlier article on the decision.

But the view is not universal. The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) interviewed medical experts who said the decision could ultimately be a boon to academic research.

The New York Times explains why. The diagnostics industry is shifting from testing single genes to testing multiple genes, and the need to get multiple licenses for research could discourage it. “When hundreds or thousands of genes are being tested at once, patents on each individual gene can become a hindrance to innovation rather than a spur,” the Times says.

Nearly 20 percent of the more than 23,000 genes in the human body are already patented, including genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, asthma and some forms of colon cancer and muscular dystrophy, the ABA Journal reported in a July story on the lawsuit.

Sweet ruled that seven patents for sequencing BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes should not have been granted because they involved a “law of nature.” Sweet said critics argue the idea of isolating a gene to make it patentable is “lawyer’s trick” that circumvents the bar on the direct patenting of human DNA.

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