Friday, June 14, 2013

Supreme Court rules against patenting human genes

Article found at:,0,4076014.story

This is an interesting article over a recent supreme court ruling, as recent as yesterday, that ruled 9-0 that gene sequences cannot be patented. The argument made by the court is that singling out a gene sequence that occurs in nature is not the same as inventing something. The Corporation in Utah was able to retain patents over two synthetic DNA sequences because this did qualify as an invention. That corporation is Myriad Genetics, and the code they held a patent for was important in identifying the probability of breast and ovarian cancer in women. Now, after this decision, the expected cost of these tests is lower and easier to obtain.

Patents are government sanctioned monopolies over new innovations. They allow the first person to invent a product to secure extra profit from it's production for a specified period of time, without feared of being pushed out by someone else able to recreate it cheaper. This is essentially a subsidy for innovation. The thought behind this is that innovation is a positive externality, that creates benefit for others outside of the market. But, the vast majority of these inventions occur within the market, lowering prices and increasing productivity in other markets. These advances in technology are exceptionally important, but do not qualify as a positive externality. From an efficiency standpoint, no patents should be issued because they create a monopoly (market failure), and they should not be an incentive to invent. Patents hurt the consumer and should not exist, this case should have never been a question. 

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