Genetics Case has Huge Implications for N.J. Biotech Industry

April 16, 2013 – In The News

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether products involving human genes can be patented, a landmark case that could impact New Jersey's biotech industry.

Myriad Genetics Inc., a Salt Lake City-based molecular diagnostics company, argued Monday its ability to isolate DNA creates a new and useful molecule that had not previously existed. Opponents in the case, listed as the Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, argue that genes, like other products of nature, are not inventions and should not be patentable.

Gerald Norton is skeptical that the court will support Myriad's argument, a conclusion he drew after reading transcripts from Monday's session. The decision is expected in June.

"We're a little nervous, like cats in a room full of rocking chairs, for this decision to come out," said Norton. "It's going to have a negative impact."

Norton said one outcome is a "split the baby" approach, where the court rules isolating genes are not patentable because they are products of nature, but synthetic molecules — known as cDNA, new products made by scientists — could be upheld.

"We don't deny that you can't put a patent on gravity," Norton said. "But where human ingenuity is involved and you've made changes — and these are not trivial changes — then that rises to level of patent protection."