Monthly Archives: April 2010

You’ve Been Patented

Increasingly Cloudy

Monday morning, while sorting through email from my neighborhood listserv (parents’ desperately seeking: pine cones, carpool partners and reliable sheet rockers) I heard this story on NPR. The ACLU won a lawsuit against the US Patent office, overturning the patents on BRCA 1 and 2, the breast cancer genes.


BRCA 1 and 2 are the genes associated with hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer. They’re tumor-suppressors and if a person has a mutation, if these genes are not working properly, that person has a greater chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

I was tested for these gene mutations shortly after I was diagnosed. Most of the young women I met during treatment also had the test done, not because we wanted to know about our risks, (duh, too late) but because we wanted to find out if our sisters, mothers, and daughters were at greater risk. My test was negative.

Patent holders, like Myriad Genetics who owned the patent on BRCA 1 and 2, held exclusive rights to these genes. They owned the usage and the chemical composition. Anyone who used the gene without permission for testing, studying, commercial or non commercial purposes was committing patent infringement.

That meant, first, that only one organization had the right to study this gene and how its mutation may contribute to tumor growth. Secondly, if you could manage to take the BRCA 1 and 2 genes out of your body, you would be committing patent infringement.

Seriously, are you screwing with me right now? Is this an April fool’s joke? Someone owned my genes (that’s MINE, give it back, I don’t like to share).

The ACLU sued the US Patent office claiming that genes are “products of nature,” something that can be discovered but not patented. They won the case which will invalidate Myriad Genetics patents and call about 4,000 other gene patents into question.

This is great news. The patents needed to go. But I‘m horrified they ever existed.

When Josie is really focused on something, she sticks her belly out and breathes, loudly, through her mouth, usually while turning something over in her hands. That’s how I’ve felt all week since I heard this news. There’s a lot of mouth breathing going on over here right now.

One thought that will not go away is this: now that the patents and financial incentives are gone who will fund gene research?