A 23andMe Patent

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who received their health information prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will only have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data. These new customers may receive health reports in the future dependent on FDA marketing authorization.

23andMe provides people with access to their own genetic data. That’s our mission. Individuals use our service to get personalized information about their health and ancestry. This information empowers them to be more involved in managing their own health. It also offers them more insight into themselves, their traits and their family’s ancestry.

Last week, 23andMe was awarded a patent for which we applied more than five years ago, and which relates to one of the tools we offer individuals as part of their genetic exploration. The tool — Family Traits Inheritance Calculator — offers an engaging way for you and your partner to see what kind of traits your child might inherit from you. The Family Trait Inheritance Calculator has also been part of our service since 2009 and is used by our customers as a fun way to look at such things as what eye color their child might have or if their child will be able to perceive bitter taste or belactose intolerant. The tool offers people an enjoyable way to dip their toes into genetics. It aligns nicely with our goal to introduce people to their DNA and help them better understand the science of genetics, which can sometimes be complicated.

When 23andMe applied for the patent (#8543339) it was meant to cover the technology that supports our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator. But the language of the patent extends beyond the calculator and so we want to be very clear about our technology and our intentions.

The patent process takes years, and businesses often file patents without knowing exactly how they might be used (or if they will be used at all) so that they can protect an innovation. At the time 23andMe filed the patent, there was consideration that the technology could have potential applications for fertility clinics so language specific to the fertility treatment process was included in the patent. But much has evolved in that time, including 23andMe’s strategic focus. The company never pursued the concepts discussed in the patent beyond our Family Traits Inheritance Calculator, nor do we have any plans to do so.

We offer parents a chance to look at the traits and conditions they might pass onto their children, something that many couples attempt to do without using genetics. Rather they look to their observable traits and medical histories within their own families. For example, prospective parents may be curious as to whether their children will have blue eyes or brown, or curly hair or a dimpled chin. Couples may also want to know about more serious conditions and risks that sometimes run in families. 23andMe offers a chance to use genetics to look at both traits and other inherited conditions.

If they carry one particular genetic variant, two individuals with brown eyes can have children with almost any color eyes.

Ultimately, 23andMe provides its customers with important information they cannot get any other way. This is information that allows them to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their family.

When we started more than seven years ago, there wasn’t a template for offering genetic information directly to consumers. In creating this new business and ensuring that we advance the technology and science behind direct-to-consumer personal genetics, we may occasionally patent that technology. Doing this helps us succeed as a business and continue with our mission to improve people’s lives. 23andMe believes that patents should not be used to prevent individuals from accessing their genetic data or its interpretation.

Applying for patents is a normal part of our business and we remain committed to our core principals of giving people access to their own genetic data, innovating the model for research and being transparent with our customers about what we are doing.