Rights groups contest human gene patent in US court

Hearings have begun on a lawsuit in the US that could have far-reaching implications in gene research.

In the first hearing in a US federal court about the patentability of human genes, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a not-for-profit organisation asked the court to rule that patents on two human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancers are unconstitutional and invalid.

The groups charge that the patents stifle diagnostic testing and research that could lead to cures and that they limit women's options regarding their medical care.

"Allowing patents on genetic material imposes real and severe limits on scientific research, learning and the free flow of information," said Chris Hansen, an attorney with the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed on12 May 2009 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of breast cancer and women's health groups, individual women and scientific associations representing approximately 150,000 researchers, pathologists and laboratory professionals.

The lawsuit was filed against the US Patent and Trademark Office, as well as Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.