By Sandra S. Park, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project
Yesterday, a unanimous Supreme Court strongly reaffirmed a principle that has existed in our case law for over 150 years: laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas cannot be patented. This principle may seem obvious, but companies have sidestepped it for years by cleverly drafting applications that pass muster with the patent office.
The decision in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Labs. involved patents on methods of correlating blood test results and drug toxicity. The Court found them invalid because the patents do nothing more than claim a law of nature -- how a patient reacts to a drug.
The ACLU filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that these patents improperly prevent physicians from considering whether to change a patient’s treatment in light of blood test results and therefore violate patent law and the First Amendment, which protects scientific thought. Prometheus’ monopoly allowed it to sue when Mayo wanted to develop and use its own test for determining whether a patient was responding well to a drug.