In a closely-watched oral argument Monday at a federal courthouse in Washington, the core questions of the case read like scripts from a college philosophy exam: are isolated human genes and the subsequent comparisons of their sequences patentable? Can one company own a monopoly on such genes without violating the rights of others? They are multi-billion dollar questions, the judicially-sanctioned answers to which will have enormous ramifications for the worlds of medicine, science, law, business, politics and religion.
Even the name of the case at the U.S. Circuit Court for the Federal Circuit -- Association of Molecular Pathology, et al. v United States Patent and Trademark Office, et al -- oozes significance. The appeals court judges have been asked to determine whether seven existing patents covering two genes -- BRCA1 and BRCA2 (a/k/a "Breast Cancer Susceptibility Genes 1 and 2") -- are valid under federal law or, instead, fall under statutory exceptions that preclude from patentability what the law identifies as "products of nature..."
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