Supreme Court: Naturally Occurring DNA Cannot Be Patented

This morning, the Supreme Court handed down a largely unanimous opinion holding that a “naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but that [synthetic DNA] is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.” This holding is consistent with longstanding law establishing that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable,” but instead belong to all inventors and to the public at large.

The case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics concerned attempts to patent a scientific discovery of a particular gene that is tied to breast and ovarian cancer risk, in addition to attempts to patent man-made DNA sequence. Under the Court’s opinion, the first kind of discovery cannot be patented, but the later can.

All nine justices joined the bulk of the opinion, which was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, although Justice Antonin Scalia did not join some portions of the opinion “going into fine details of molecular biology.”