WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that human DNA cannot be patented. The case focused on two genes that help detect breast cancer.
All nine Supreme Court justices agreed only synthetic DNA can be patented. As a result thousands of women could have increased access to life saving tests using natural human genes.
"It means that our bodies are our own, no one can own them," says Lisa Schlager of 'Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered', or FORCE.
The decision reverses patents held by Myriad, a Utah research company, for two parts of DNA used to detect a risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Actress Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy after taking the test and discovering she was at risk. Patient advocates say the ruling will save lives.
"This will open the door to women of more socioeconomic levels," Schlager says.
The decision will have a significant impact on the biotech industry. It's been receiving patents on genes for almost 30 years, but patent law says a company must first create something.
In his decision Justice Clarence Thomas wrote isolating natural DNA "is not an act of invention".
"I think that researchers will be less worried about patent infringement and it therefore will have a good effect on our ability to do genomic research," says genetics researcher Dr. James Evans.
In a statement, Myriad's CEO said it was pleased the court protected patents on synthetic DNA. Myriad holds more than 500 of those.