Justices wary of bold action on gene patenting

The following is an excerpt.

WASHINGTON — In a lively hearing Monday, the Supreme Court struggled to find a narrow way to rule on the momentous question of whether human genes may be patented.

“Why should we jump in and decide the broadest possible question?’’ asked Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

In order to simplify the complex scientific and legal questions before them, the justices proposed more simple analogies — to chocolate chip cookies, baseball bats, and plants in the Amazon with medicinal qualities. But none of them proved wholly satisfactory, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there was a lesson in that.

“The patent law is filled with uneasy compromises,’’ he said.

Some justices expressed concern about making sure that businesses continue to engage in expensive research. Others worried that allowing genes to be patented would shut down innovation.
“Why would a company undertake massive investment if it cannot patent?’’ asked Justice Antonin Scalia.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that an isolated gene is ‘‘just nature sitting there.’’

The court’s ruling in the case will shape the course of scientific research and medical testing and will affect willingness of businesses to invest in expensive work in isolating and understanding genetic material.

View the original article here: Justices wary of bold action on gene patenting

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