In a reversal of long-standing policy, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Friday that naturally occurring genes—human or otherwise—could not be patented. This ruling does not include manipulated or altered genes. So, for instance, you can still patent the specific, fiddled-with genes behind a GM crop. But, this is still a very big deal. Right now the genes associated with increased risk of breast cancer are patented and, thus, there is only one, very expensive, test available to look for them. In March, a judge ruled those patents invalid. And now it looks like the federal government is backing up that ruling.
This could have some real impact. But it really goes back to the idea that you can not patent natural products, only what you do with them. So, one should be able to patent a particular implementation using a gene but that should not prevent others from using the gene for their own, different implementation.
We used to be prevented from even working on a particular gene to see what it would do because another company held the gene patent.now, all those companies THAT thought they could keep others from working on a gene because they owned a patent may have to do some real competing.