The American Civil Liberties Union won an unprecedented and important victory last week when a federal court ruled that patents on genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are invalid.

The federal court ruling in New York is the first time a court has ruled gene patents unlawful, which the ACLU said now will raise questions about the validity of 2,000 existing patents on genes.

According to the article:

The specific patents the ACLU had challenged are on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations along the BRCA1 and 2 genes are responsible for most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. Many women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer in their families opt to undergo genetic testing to determine if they have the mutations on their BRCA genes that put them at increased risk for these diseases. This information is critical in helping these women decide on a plan of treatment or prevention, including increased surveillance or preventive mastectomies or ovary removal.

The ACLU brought the lawsuit because they said no person or company owns the rights to genes because they were discovered, not created:

"Today's ruling is a victory for the free flow of ideas in scientific research," said Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. "The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas."

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