The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday on whether scientists can hold exclusive intellectual property rights, known as patents, on the human gene.
The case involves two patents held by U.S.-based Myriad Genetics on two human genes linked to breast or ovarian cancer when it mutates, or changes, into a different form. The company, joined by its allies in the biotechnology industry, says it would lose out on billions of dollars they have invested in developing treatments for diseases and vaccines.
But opponents of the practice, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation, says it prevents scientists from obtaining information that could lead to faster medical discoveries and breakthroughs.
A federal district court in New York invalidated Myriad's patents in a 2010 ruling, but a higher appeals court has twice ruled in the company's favor.
The Obama administration has sided with opponents of the practice, who claim that human genetic information is a product of nature and not subject to patent under U.S. law.
The Supreme Court has already said abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature cannot be given a patent, which gives an inventor the right to prevent others from making, using or selling a novel device, process or application.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.