College of Law

“The Genome Defense:” The Lawsuit That Ended Gene Patenting in America

"The Genome Defense:" The Lawsuit That Ended Gene Patenting in America

DATE: Tuesday, November 9 2021
TIME: 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm MST
LOCATION: College of Law and Virtual Event

Free parking in the Rice-Eccles stadium lot.

COST: Free and open to the public
1 hour CLE (pending)

A discussion with Jorge Contreras, author of “The Genome Defense” and professor of law at the S. J. Quinney College of Law. Contreras will be joined by panelist Lynn Jorde, professor of human genetics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and moderator Erika George, professor of law at the S. J. Quinney College of Law.


In 2005, two MIT researchers observed that 20% of the human genome was claimed by patents.  In the same year, Chris Hansen, an ACLU attorney, and Tania Simoncelli, the ACLU’s first science advisor, began to plan a lawsuit that would attack gene patenting in America.  Their target was Myriad Genetics, a University of Utah spinout company that controlled the patents on the BRCA1/2 genes.  Individuals with certain variants of these genes have a high risk of contracting breast or ovarian cancer, but Myriad’s test for these variants was unaffordable to many.  The ACLU’s lawsuit, which ended in a unanimous 2013 Supreme Court victory, fundamentally changed the biotechnology industry.  In “The Genome Defense”, Professor Jorge Contreras describes the circuitous path of this remarkable lawsuit, from genetics labs to corporate boardrooms to the highest reaches of the White House.  It offers valuable lessons in how the law wrestles with scientific advancements and how, with determination and luck, even the most entrenched legal regimes can be changed.

This book can be purchased through The King’s English Bookshop at this link.



Jorge Contreras, Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Jorge L. Contreras teaches in the areas of intellectual property law, property law and genetics and the law. He has recently been named one of the University of Utah’s Presidential Scholars, he won the 2018-19 Faculty Scholarship Award from the S.J. Quinney College of Law and the University’s Distinguished Research Award in 2020. Professor Contreras has previously served on the law faculties of American University Washington College of Law and Washington University in St. Louis, and was a partner at the international law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, where he practiced transactional and intellectual property law in Boston, London and Washington DC. Professor Contreras’s current research focuses, among other things, on the development of technical standards and the use and dissemination of data generated by large-scale scientific research projects.

Erika George, Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor George earned a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she served as Articles Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. She also holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, Professor George served as a law clerk for Judge William T. Hart on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, as a litigation associate for the law firms of Jenner & Block in Chicago and Coudert Brothers LLP in New York City, and as a fellow and later consultant to Human Rights Watch. In connection with her work with Human Rights Watch, Professor George conducted investigations in South Africa on women’s rights, children’s rights, violence, the right to education, and abuses related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She wrote a book-length report, Scared at School: Sexual Violence Against Girls in South African Schools, which received widespread media coverage in South Africa and internationally. She currently serves as special counsel to the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

Lynn Jorde, Chair, Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah School of Medicine Lynn Jorde’s laboratory has long been involved in studies of human genetic variation and disease. They have been involved in studies of human limb malformations, autism, hypertension, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia, and a number of other Mendelian and common, complex diseases. For more than a decade, they have been involved in research on the evolution of mobile elements and the effects of these elements on the human genome. They have been actively engaged in studies of human genetic variation and natural selection, and  have used whole-genome sequencing to uncover disease-causing mutations and to estimate the human mutation rate. They have published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers on these topics