February 2, 2010 / 8:50 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. rights group argues against human gene patent

NEW YORK, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Patents on two human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer should be declared invalid because they stifle the free flow of information and hamper research, lawyers told a New York judge on Tuesday.

A lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups last May posed a broad challenge to gene patenting and its outcome could have far reaching effects because one in five human genes are patented.

The specific case argued on Monday at Manhattan federal court concerned a patent on two genes held by Myriad Genetics (MYGN.O). Mutations on those genes are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.

“(Myriad) uncovered a law of nature ... and they deserve credit for having done so. But laws of nature are not patentable,” said Chris Hansen, an attorney with the ACLU.

But a lawyer for Myriad dismissed the litigation as a test case to “go after gene patents and the biotech industry as a whole” and said patents have a positive impact on human health because they promote innovation.

“This is not nature’s handiwork... this is the hard work of man,” said Brian Poissant, a lawyer for Myriad.

It could be months before the judge issues a ruling.

The lawsuit by the ACLU, the Association for Molecular Pathology, individual women and others was brought against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. (Editing by Daniel Trotta and Chris Wilson)

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