Supreme Court compromise on gene patents
01:45 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Unanimous ruling a compromise; court says synthetic material, cDNA, can be patented

Actress Angelina Jolie drove attention to the issue involving breast cancer

Issue was whether "products of nature" could be treated similarly to human inventions

Company at center of case says decision upheld a key claim on synthetic DNA

Washington CNN  — 

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that human genes cannot be patented.

But in something of a compromise, all nine justices said while the naturally occurring isolated biological material itself is not patentable, a synthetic version of the gene material may be patented.

Legal and medical experts believe the decision will have a lasting impact on genetic testing, likely making varieties more widely available and more affordable.

The overriding legal question addressed was whether “products of nature” can be treated the same as “human-made” inventions, allowing them to be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies.

The broader issue involved 21st century conflicts over cutting-edge medical science, the power of business and individual legal rights, and how their convergence might influcence decisionmaking over how people and medicine manage the prospect and reality of certain diseases, like cancer.

The issue has deeply divided the scientific and business communities. But it was a blockbuster celebrity, actress Angelina Jolie who brought it to the public in announcing last month that she underwent a double mastectomy following a genetic test.