Supreme Court drops patent process case

In a dissenting opinion, three justices said they would have heard the case because of the effects it could have on medicine.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted July 24, 2006

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

The U.S. Supreme Court in June, without explanation, dismissed from its docket a patent case that could have set boundaries for what types of medical discoveries can be patented.

By declining to hear Laboratory Corp. v. Metabolite, the court left in place a 2004 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruling in which judges let Metabolite patent a process that correlates high homocysteine levels with vitamin B deficiency. Metabolite sued LabCorp when the company developed another way to test the relationship and refused to pay royalties. The appeals court ruled in favor of Metabolite, finding that LabCorp caused its labs to infringe the patent whenever its physicians performed the correlation in the diagnostic tests.

The medical community watched the case closely because of the stifling impact doctors believe overly broad patents could have on research and the practice of medicine. The American Medical Association, joined by five other medical groups, filed a friend-of-the-court brief, contending that "upholding a claimed patent on a scientific fact would directly undercut the goal of making diagnostic treatment advances widely accessible."

Metabolite's patent also puts doctors in danger of infringement in the course of routine patient care, organized medicine's brief said.

The case caught the business community's attention, as well. Business leaders argued that not allowing such patents would impede the investment needed to further biomedical research.

In a dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter, said they would have taken up the case. "To fail to do so threatens to leave the medical profession subject to the restrictions imposed by this individual patent and others of its kind," Breyer wrote.

At the AMA's Annual Meeting in June, delegates voted to initiate a study of the ethical issues related to the use of patents, trademarks, copyrights and confidentiality agreements that limit access to new medical procedures and techniques.

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn