patent

Supreme Court rules biotech Prometheus Laboratories can't patent 'laws of nature'

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: patents, laws of nature, Supreme Court

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(NaturalNews) The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are known for trying to hijack nature and claim it as their own personal property via the patent process. But a recent Supreme Court ruling has set a new precedent against this fraudulent practice, as Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has ruled invalid two medical diagnostics patents held by Prometheus Laboratories, a biotech company owned by food giant Nestle.

According to reports, Prometheus had developed a diagnostic method for testing levels of metabolites in patients' blood to determine proper dosage levels of a class of drugs known as thiopurines. This method, which became widely adopted in the medical field, eventually birthed competing diagnostic protocols that performed the same or similar functions.

In 2004, for instance, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota developed its own metabolite testing protocol and abandoned Prometheus' product. And in response, Prometheus filed a lawsuit against the Mayo Clinic alleging that the use of the protocol represented a patent infringement, which represented a first in the area of diagnostic medicine.

But because these methods were simply the routes used to deliver drug products and not actually drugs themselves, the patent filings were found to be an illegitimate attempt to patent natural processes. In its decision, the court noted that doctors or clinics who use such methods are merely utilizing advancements in science for the betterment of patients, and are not in violation of any sort of patents.

"Laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable," said the decision by Justice Stephen Breyer, who overturned a previous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in favor of Prometheus' two patents. "[A]n application of a law of nature ... must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words 'apply it' ... [t]he claims are consequently invalid."

The decision has prompted a fresh review of another case involving Myriad Genetics & Laboratories, a company that had tried to patent human genes. Back in 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had declared these patents valid (http://www.naturalnews.com), but thanks to the recent decision in the Prometheus case, that decision could eventually be reversed (http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120326-710189.html).

"The chemical structure of native human genes is a product of nature, and it is no less a product of nature when that structure is 'isolated' from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth," wrote a U.S. Department of Justice briefing on the issue several years ago (http://www.naturalnews.com/030256_genes_patent_protection.html).

Sources for this article include:

http://arstechnica.com

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