In Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., the Supreme Court considered whether human genes are patentable under the Patent Act of 1952. Originally enacted in 1790, the Act allows patents to be granted on any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, barring a judicially created exception for laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. These three naturally occurring things are nonpatentable because they create the foundation of scientific and technological work. In Myriad, the Court unanimously held that isolated DNA is nonpatentable, since such DNA is naturally occurring phenomena under the exception, and merely isolating it is not sufficient to make it otherwise. However, the Court held that complimentary DNA (“cDNA”) is patentable, as it is not similarly naturally occurring.

The Court reached this conclusion by following precedent in a number of ways, most notably in its emphasis on, and analysis of, the principles behind both patent law’s protections and the law’s exception regarding patentable subject matter. In doing so, the Court accomplished precisely those principles’ objective: striking the balance of patent law’s double-edged sword by promoting further scientific progress while also proscribing the improper restriction of science and technology’s basic tools. The correct decision in Myriad was a colossal win for science, public health, and personalized medicine, and it came at the cost of a mere slap on the wrist for the biotech industry.