Thursday, June 13, 2013

If You Strike Down Gene Patents, They Will Return More Powerful Than You Can Imagine

Today, the Supreme Court decided that logic is important.  And that's good.  So, thank you, SCOTUS (which I occasionally read as "scrotum" when I'm scanning through articles too quickly).  Thank you for striking down patents on human genes, unanimously, mind you -- definitely didn't expect that.  It's like you all suddenly said, "Hey, Myriad Genetics didn't invent these genes, they kind of just exist in my body right now without anyone's help."  Which is true.

Myriad fought hard, with the whole isolation argument.  And, like I said before, if that's how the law works, as soon as I isolate my lady friend on our next date, she's fuckin' patented.  I'm paraphrasing, but I think this could be exactly what Myriad's legal rep had to say about baseball bats, or something dumb like that: "It's the same as when you isolate a baseball bat from a tree.  You need to know where to start and stop to make the bat.  You know, because by making it in the first place, it's not like the bat represents an original product of human invention, since I see these things littering the ground every morning after the wind blows.  They're just falling out of trees left and right.  Products of nature, baseball bats are.  The MLB just figured out how to isolate them.  They lured them out with sunflower seeds and human growth hormone, I think, at the start."

A lot of news outlets are reporting on this decision in the normal sensational, buzz-generating way (shocking).  I guess it helps views/ratings, but maybe the simple truth would, too?  Here's the rundown: Bloomberg says "Mixed ruling for Myriad."  Forbes says "The Supreme Court strikes down gene patents, with a major exception."  This is totally misguiding, because really, there are no exceptions, and there was no mixed ruling.  The manufactured confusion here is the question of whether or not synthetic genes were subject to patent law.  Which, of course, they are.  Any original creation can be patented.  The "exception" is supposed to mean that synthetic gene patents are allowed.  But, like I said, they should be, and this isn't news.  The news is that we've cut through Myriad Genetic's BS about how isolating something makes it subject to patent law. As to the Bloomberg article, I don't know how a statement about a "mixed ruling" applies at all to a case involving a unanimous decision.  I'm guessing for the same synthetic/non-synthetic question.  The mixed ruling is that synthetics are allowed?  My point is that they always have been.  And patenting naturally-occurring substances has never been allowed.  So... where's there a mixed ruling?  I'm assuming that the acoustics aren't very good in the courtroom?  I'm just saying, it's a big ornate building with a lot of fluff, and it might create some reverb or tremolo, and some members of the press core certainly may have heard: "After successfully determining the very clear language of the law to be exactly as it reads, we hereby count this as a mixed ruling."  But I find that very unlikely.  Mostly because you can read the full text of the decision by Justice Clarence Thomas on the interwebs.

I don't know what else to say about this, other than thank you, SCOTUS.  There are a lot of interests at play here, as in all cases that reach this level.  Sometimes, we luck out, and the bottom line is the right thing, and it ultimately gets done.  This is one of those cases.  There are still many issues and obstacles related to this case, the results of which are yet to be determined.  Only the future will tell what new battles will crop up on the horizon.  When we know, we'll fight them, too, until people and patients are treated fairly and reasonably and health care and related services are readily available and affordable to all of us who need them.  As a personal note, I will be getting my genetic profile done as soon as there is an affordable option.  With the fall of Myriad's gene patents, competition will drive the cost down and I will soon be able to do so, along with millions of other at-risk individuals.  Until then, I will leave you with a quote from the Forbes article that sums things up pretty well, in my opinion:

“'It’s one of these situations where candidly, it just makes me sad there isn’t a higher level of basic biology knowledge in the world,' said Brenda Jarrell, a Ph.D biochemist and partner with at Choate, Hall & Stewart in Boston. 'Unfortunately, this is the Supreme Court.'”