WASHINGTON, D.C.: The US Supreme Court’s rejection on Thursday (Friday in Manila) of natural DNA patent protection could hurt biotech companies, but specialists said that it left enough safeguards for the industry to keep innovating.
The court ruled that Myriad Genetics, which sells expensive tests for the genetic markers for cancer, could not claim patents on the DNA it identified in the 1990s to develop the tests.
Critics said that the ruling would inhibit other companies and their financial backers, like venture capitalists, from investing in more genetic sequencing research because they could not patent their discoveries.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today represents a troubling departure from decades of judicial and Patent and Trademark Office precedent,” said Jim Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Companies “have long relied on patents on preparations of DNA molecules and other biological chemicals in order to bring innovative, socially beneficial products to the marketplace,” he said, calling the United States “now the only developed country to take such a restrictive view of patent eligibility.”
“This is a real disappointment for the advancement of medical innovation,” said Kelly Slone, vice president of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA).
“Venture capitalists needs certainty, and that certainty is what patents provide,” he added.
But analysts said that the ruling was narrow enough to avoid stifling genetic sequencing research by pharmaceutical firms, agrotechnology businesses, and others.
“The court clearly is struggling as it has been for years with striking the right balance,” said Michael Shuster, a partner at San Francisco law practice Fenwick and West, and a specialist in biotechnology and intellectual property.
“I think that they understand that the biotech industry is a bright spot for the economy,” he added.
The court’s decision “makes the climate a little more difficult” for companies and their financial backers, “but there are still strategies that can be pursued,” said Shuster, who wrote a “friend of the court” brief for the case on behalf of the NVCA.
Nevertheless, he called it “a ruling the industry as a whole can live with.”