You Can’t Patent Human Genes

DNA_StructureThe litigious DNA molecule (the most
litigious of ALL molecules)

Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it REALLY right, and today, the Supreme Court got it really right:

Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not Be Patented
Adam Liptak / New York Times

WASHINGTON — Human genes may not be patented, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.  —  The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer….

This was one of those decisions I was holding my breath about. You see, suddenly information is THE commodity, and information can’t be bought and sold if it’s free information.

That’s the fundamental train wreck hiding in the makeup of the Information Age: the commodification of information versus freedom of speech and thought.

Wind River Train Derail

A metaphor for a conceptual derailment made absurdly literal

We see it on the one side, with Bradley Manning and Eric Snowden, who feel that all information ought to be free, and we see it on the other side, with BioTech companies arguing that they ought to be able to patent human genes (e.g. breast cancer) so as to have a monopoly (and thus a very lucrative chunk) on the cure.

train on east shore

The profitability express

The score?

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA, J., joined in part. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

That’s 9-zip. Unanimous, save for Antonin Scalia’s little fiend “Tony” (see the Kubrick version of “The Shining”), who is so adorable, that the bizarro world of the Wall Street Journal provides a LINK with this heading:


Can Danny come out to play?

Justice Scalia weighs in p. 22

Justice Scalia joins the judgment but notes that he cannot affirm ‘fine details of molecular biology’ based on his own knowledge.

Antonin Scalia official SCOTUS portrait

Antonin Scalia official portrait

With this … hunh?


[June 13, 2013]

JUSTICE SCALIA, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
I join the judgment of the Court, and all of its opinion except Part I–A and some portions of the rest of the opinion going into fine details of molecular biology. I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief. It suffices for me to affirm, having studied the opinions below and the expert briefs presented here, that the portion of DNA isolated from its natural state sought to be patented is identical to that portion of the DNA in its natural state; and that complementary DNA (cDNA) is a synthetic creation not normally present in nature.

scalia talks about viagra

Which is a Machiavellian splitting of hairs that Mephistopheles hisownself would be proud of (one assumes it’s a careful hedge on some future abortion suit).

You have to admit, Antonin Scalia doesn’t often go out of his way to plead ignorance on anything, nor underline his know-nothingness about nothing never. So, admittedly, it’s odd, albeit inscrutable.

seventh seal

The first is never get involved in a land war in Asia …

We move on; here’s the Supreme Court’s own summary:

Held: A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.

So, you can patent new genes, but you can’t patent old genes.


Which seems reasonable and prudent in this Brave New Information world.

But, trust me, had the decision gone the opposite (or even 5-4) route, that is a world one shudders to contemplate. This was a very good decision, trust me. Huzzah!

Today’s threat level

I now return to my undisclosed location, shielded from spy satellites and Facebook algorithms, alike, to get away from the shrieking that has filled the air so completely for the past several daze (sic) that I have not blogged or posted or written in the face of so much sheer nonsense and balderdash on all sides of the screaming issue.

I think the NSA needs a cute cartoon mascot, like Mr. Zip
or Smokey Bear (NOT Smokey THE Bear)

Something sure struck a nerve.


This is cross-posted from his vorpal sword.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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