Most biotech companies already have moved on from trying to patent isolated DNA, instead looking at synthetic options and other ways of protecting their multimillion-dollar investments, said Matthew McFarlane of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP.
"On a day-in and day-out basis, I don't see this changing that part of the industry," McFarlane said. "Isolated DNA itself is not something that companies seek to protect anymore."
Myriad's stock price jumped 10 percent after the ruling and was above $36 a share in early afternoon trading.
For its part, Myriad focused on what the ruling left intact.
"We believe the court appropriately upheld our claims on cDNA and underscored the patent eligibility of our method claims, ensuring strong intellectual property protection for our BRACAnalysis test moving forward," said Peter D. Meldrum, Myriad's president and CEO. "More than 250,000 patients rely upon our BRACAnalysis test annually, and we remain focused on saving and improving peoples' lives and lowering overall health-care costs."
Myriad sells the only BRCA gene test. Opponents of its patents said the company can use the patents to keep other researchers from working with the BRCA gene to develop other tests.
"Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation," said Sandra Park, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project. "Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued."
Companies have billions of dollars of investment and years of research on the line in this case. Their advocates argue that, without the ability to recoup their investment through the profits that patents bring, breakthrough scientific discoveries to combat all kinds of medical maladies wouldn't happen.
However, "genes and the information they encode area not patent eligible . . . simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material," Thomas wrote for the court.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "the portion of the DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state."
The case is 12-398, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.