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Biotech Industry at Stake in Human Gene Patent Decision

Bloomberg Businessweek
Greg Stohr and Susan Decker
Sunday, April 14, 2013

An article discussing the Supreme Court's plan to rule on whether human genes can be patented featured commentary from Andrew Torrance, professor of law.

“There is a strong aversion to patents that cover any aspect of the human body,” said Andrew Torrance, who teaches patent and biodiversity law at the University of Kansas and is a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s a gut-level principle. We don’t like the thought of humans as property, and we think of patents as property.”

More broadly, the case has rekindled a debate over the longstanding concept that patents can’t cover “laws of nature.” The Supreme Court pointed to that legal principle in 1854 when it invalidated part of Samuel Morse’s telegraph patent because it sought to cover the use of electric current to transmit characters or letters.

“Einstein could not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2; nor could Newton have patented the law of gravity,” the high court wrote in a 1980 case. “Such discoveries are manifestations of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none.”