By Selene Kaye, Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU Women's Rights Project and Sandra Park, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Women's Rights Project and one of the attorneys handling this case
Last week the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government's practice of granting patents on human genes - specifically, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In the last 20 or so years the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued patents on thousands of human genes - the segments of DNA that we all have in our cells - giving private corporations, individuals, and universities the exclusive rights to those genetic sequences and their usage.
The patents on the BRCA genes are particularly broad and offensive. The PTO has granted Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, patents on both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic sequences, on any mutations along those genes, on any methods for locating mutations on the genes, without further specification on the type of methods, and on correlations between genetic mutations and susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.