The Supreme Court's Gene Patent Ruling Explained in GIFs

Originally posted with more SCOTUS-in-GIFs at

Decision: June 13, 2013, 9-0

Summary at SCOTUSBlog

The reason we are the way we are is DNA.

The reason Angelina Jolie is the way that she is has to do with two mutations in her DNA, specifically ones that predispose her to breast and ovarian cancer.

The two genes we’re talking about here are called BRCA1 and BRCA2, and they occur naturally in the body.

A company called Myriad Genetics acquired patents for these two genes, because they created a cancer-detecting test (the BRCAnalysis) that uses them.

A bunch of people (like, actual people, and then also the ACLU) got really mad about this and filed suit in New York.

A federal court invalidated the BRCA patents in 2010, but in 2011, an appeals court overturned the ruling.

LAW BREAK. So, like, patent law is really boring, but one of the most CRAZY BASIC things about it is that in order to get a patent, you have to have done something. You can’t patent stuff that occurs in nature.

Myriad’s argument was that it took a bunch of work and proprietary methodology to isolate BRCA in the first place.

SCOTUS’s opinion was, basically, “HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD OF PATENT LAW?”

So, right, you can’t patent naturally-occurring stuff. DNA occurs naturally — Clarence was all, the sequence of code in the BRCA genes in the Myriad lab is the same as the sequence in the human body. The court also said that synthetic DNA, known as cDNA, is patentable.

This isn’t a total loss for Myriad. They are also entitled to claim “method patents,” which would cover stuff like the DNA extraction process, the breast cancer test, and whatever the hell else they’re doing over there.