Historic gene patent case begins in US Supreme Court

The court's decision could have broad implications for research, patient health and the pharmaceutical industry, with nearly 20% of the approximately 24,000 human genes currently under patent, some linked to cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

At issue are the actions of Myriad Genetics, a Utah-based company that holds patents on genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, both associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The firm says patents for the two genes, awarded in 1998, have helped it raise the money "necessary to decode the genes,