Seven patents on the human breast and ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 were struck down Monday by a U.S. federal judge. The ruling could affect patents on thousands of human genes.
In his 152-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet said the patents held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation were "improperly granted" because they involved a "law of nature," The New York Times reported.
The legal challenge against the patents was launched last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, individual patients, and medical organizations.
They said that because genes are products of nature, they fall outside the realm of things that can be patented. They also argued that the patents hinder research and innovation and limit cancer testing options, The Times reported.
Plaintiff Genae Girard said the court decision is "a big turning point for all women in the country that may have breast cancer that runs in their family."
Loss of gene patent protection could reduce incentives for genetic research, according to Edward Reines, a California patent lawyer who represents biotechnology firms but wasn't involved in this case, The Times reported.
Patents are held on about 20 percent of human genes.