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Wiley Rein Files Amicus Brief for Nobel Laureate James D. Watson in Supreme Court Human Gene Patent Case

February 2013

On behalf of Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, Wiley Rein filed an amicus brief on January 31 in a landmark human gene patent case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dr. Watson's brief, filed by Wiley Rein Appellate, Litigation and Intellectual Property attorney Matthew J. Dowd and Patent Group chair James H. Wallace Jr., argues that human genes should not be patented because they convey information about “the essence of being human.”

The Supreme Court is considering whether to invalidate patents on two cancer genes isolated by Myriad Genetics Inc., which sells a diagnostic test that can determine whether a patient has either gene. In August 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld, for the second time, Myriad's patents on the mutated genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are linked to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. An amicus brief Wiley Rein filed on Dr. Watson's behalf in the appeals court case was widely discussed in leading technical and science journals.

A human gene is a “product of nature,” and restricting its use through patents has “important social consequences,” Dr. Watson said in the Supreme Court brief.

In 1953, Dr. Watson and the late Francis Crick revealed to the world the correct structure of DNA, a discovery that led them to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Dr. Watson has remained at the forefront of DNA research, having served as a professor at Harvard University, the Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. Currently, Dr. Watson is Chancellor Emeritus of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“With a gene sequence in hand, we can know with some degree of certainty whether we will develop cancer, a neurological disease, or some other malady,” Dr. Watson said. “This information should not be monopolized by any one individual, company, or government.”

The amicus brief Wiley Rein filed on behalf of Dr. Watson can be read here.   

For more information, please contact Matthew J. Dowd at 202.719.7343 or