In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the court ruled that “a naturally occurring segment” of DNA — genetic material that has been isolated from human chromosomes — cannot be patented because it is simply a product of nature. For policy wonks, the case was a David-and-Goliath fight, one of the most important patent cases in a decade, with an outcome sure to affect the $100 billion biotechnology industry, no matter how it was decided.
But while the Supreme Court’s ruling has been welcomed enthusiastically by many, the Myriad case has been only a modest victory for the advocates of genetic-data sharing. Indeed, none of the underlying tensions have truly been resolved: we still need to find a way for the biotech industry to keep a competitive advantage without endangering the welfare of patients and slowing medication innovation.
In reality, gene patents were only one part of the problem. A more vexing, and still pressing, issue is how companies withhold genetic data as a trade secret.