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Highly Accessed Open Badges Correspondence

Pervasive sequence patents cover the entire human genome

Jeffrey A Rosenfeld12 and Christopher E Mason345*

Author Affiliations

1 IST/Division of High Performance and Research Computing at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, South Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ 07103, USA

2 American Museum of Natural History, Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024, USA

3 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY 10065, USA

4 HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Institute for Computational Biomedicine, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY 10065, USA

5 The Information Society Project, Yale Law School, New Haven, CT 06520, USA

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Genome Medicine 2013, 5:27  doi:10.1186/gm431

Published: 25 March 2013


The scope and eligibility of patents for genetic sequences have been debated for decades, but a critical case regarding gene patents (Association of Molecular Pathologists v. Myriad Genetics) is now reaching the US Supreme Court. Recent court rulings have supported the assertion that such patents can provide intellectual property rights on sequences as small as 15 nucleotides (15mers), but an analysis of all current US patent claims and the human genome presented here shows that 15mer sequences from all human genes match at least one other gene. The average gene matches 364 other genes as 15mers; the breast-cancer-associated gene BRCA1 has 15mers matching at least 689 other genes. Longer sequences (1,000 bp) still showed extensive cross-gene matches. Furthermore, 15mer-length claims from bovine and other animal patents could also claim as much as 84% of the genes in the human genome. In addition, when we expanded our analysis to full-length patent claims on DNA from all US patents to date, we found that 41% of the genes in the human genome have been claimed. Thus, current patents for both short and long nucleotide sequences are extraordinarily non-specific and create an uncertain, problematic liability for genomic medicine, especially in regard to targeted re-sequencing and other sequence diagnostic assays.