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The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated two Prometheus Laboratories Inc. patents for a test that helps doctors set drug dosages for patients with Crohn's disease.
The case was considered a key test of how far companies can go in patenting medical diagnostic tests, which can be used to screen patients for diseases and test whether a person can benefit from a particular treatment.
The high court, in a unanimous ruling by Justice Stephen Breyer, said the patents were invalid because they made claims on laws of nature, which aren't patentable.
The ruling was a win for the Mayo Clinic, which wants to offer a competing medical test. Mayo argued the Prometheus patents improperly sought to claim a patent monopoly on the right to observe a natural phenomenon: how the human body reacts to ingesting certain drugs.
Leading medical groups supported Mayo in the case, arguing that no one should enjoy exclusive patent rights to tests that observe the human body's natural response to illness or treatments.
The ruling was a setback for biotechnology and drug companies such as Roche Holding AG (RHHBY, ROG.VX) and Abbott Laboratories (ABT), which argued that such patents are key to protecting investments in medical advances.
Prometheus is a unit of Nestle S.A. (NSRGY, NESN.VX).
Among the best known of the patents are those held by Myriad Genetics Inc. (MYGN) that allow the company to be the exclusive provider of screening tests that identify patients at risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Those patents are also being challenged in court.
The case is Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories Inc., 10-1150.
--By Brent Kendall, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9222; firstname.lastname@example.org