Lots of California residents probably read Angelina's Jolie's May Op/Ed piece for the New York Times. In that article, she revealed that she carried the "faulty" BRAC 1 gene, which greatly increased her risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
That gene was back in the news again this week as the U.S. Supreme Court decided against a Salt Lake City biotech company that had sought to patent the location and mutation of BRAC 1 and BRAC 2 genes.
A patent would have granted the company, Myriad Genetics, control over how the genes were used in tests and treatments for breast and ovarian cancer. It's fair to assume that such control would have proven to be lucrative.
However, the Supreme Court said that while Myriad had created a powerful breakthrough in the field of human health and medicine, it had not actually invented anything and so did not deserve a patent.
While naturally occurring things are typically not patentable, a living thing may be properly patented if human innovation and intervention were necessary to bring it to fruition. For example, no one could patent corn as a plant species, but a specific type of corn that had been developed in a laboratory might be patentable, since human effort was required to bring it to fruition.
Given how important genetic-based treatments and therapies are becoming, it is almost certain that we have not heard the last word on this type of case. Intellectual property is a very exciting field these days.
Source: Patent Docs, "Supreme Court Issues Decision in AMP v. Myriad," Donald Zuhn, June 13, 2013