Katherine StrandburgAn amicus brief written by Professor Katherine Strandburg on behalf of 11 organizations, including the American Medical Association, was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in a March 20 ruling. The unanimous opinion in Mayo v. Prometheus held that, since Prometheus Laboratories’ method of determining whether a patient is receiving the optimal amount of a therapeutic drug is based on a law of nature, it cannot be patented.

The Court’s opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer quoted from a section of Strandburg’s brief warning against allowing such patents, arguing that if “claims to exclusive rights over the body’s natural responses to illness and medical treatment are permitted to stand, the result will be a vast thicket of exclusive rights over the use of critical scientific data that must remain widely available if physicians are to provide sound medical care.”

Elsewhere in the opinion, Breyer wrote, “If a law of nature is not patentable, then neither is a process reciting a law of nature, unless that process has additional features that provide practical assurance that the process is more than a drafting effort designed to monopolize the law of nature itself…. The claims inform a relevant audience about certain laws of nature; any additional steps consist of well-understood, routine, conventional activity already engaged in by the scientific community; and those steps, when viewed as a whole, add nothing significant beyond the sum of their parts taken separately.”

Posted on March 22, 2012