US Supreme Court sides with Mayo over medical patent

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Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, in this photo taken March 5, 2009. In a case that could have big implications for patent law, the high court said Tuesday, March 20, 2012 that Minnesota's Mayo Clinic did not infringe upon a patent held by Prometheus Labs San Diego.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the Mayo Clinic on a case involving patents on medical tests.

The court's unanimous decision on Tuesday comes as personalized genetic therapies are on the cusp of becoming a major part of the biotech industry.

Mayo had developed its own version of a blood test originally introduced by a company called Prometheus Labs. That company sued Mayo to prevent the clinic from releasing the updated test.

At issue was whether natural phenomena that can be observed, such as the results of this blood test, can be patented.

Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said extending patent protections to natural laws would inhibit the development of future tests.

"The question before us is whether the claims do significantly more than simply describe these natural relations," said Breyer. "To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible processes that apply natural law? We believe the answer to this question is no."

Natural phenomenon cannot be patented, a lower court judge said. That decision was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, leading Mayo to appeal to the Supreme Court.

"The unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court will enable physicians and other health care providers to offer and use tailored diagnostic tests to benefit patients," said John Noseworthy, president & chief executive officer of the Mayo Clinic.

Personalized medicine is becoming big business in the United States, with companies trying to find the best way to use a person's genetic makeup to help tailor care and find the most effective individualized treatments for cancer and other illnesses.

Officials at Prometheus Laboratories Inc., in San Diego said they were disappointed in the court's ruling. "We believe that strong patent protection is important to encourage the investment of energy and resources to develop lifesaving diagnostic tests and treatment protocols," a company statement said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)