Alumni Short

Students Argue Human Gene Patents in 2013 Langfan Family First-Year Moot Court Competition

IIthaca, NEW YORK, May 8, 2013

Are human genes patentable? More than one hundred first-year law students deftly argued both sides of the debate during the Langfan Family First-Year Moot Court Competition. The moot court problem, drafted by Cornell Law’s Moot Court Board, was based on Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, a landmark patent law case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States just two days after the final round argument.

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Two key aspects of the case were the composition of the gene and how the gene could be used. The petitioner argued that the extracted human gene sequence in question is identical to the gene sequence as it exists in the human body and therefore a “product of nature” not eligible for a patent under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The respondent countered that because this extracted gene sequence has new utility in its isolated form outside of the human body—that is, because the extracted gene sequence serves as a diagnostic tool to detect heightened risk of breast cancer—the gene sequence deserves protection as a product of human ingenuity.

The tournament culminated in the MacDonald Moot Court Room on Saturday, April 13, with Justin DiGennaro ’15 representing the petitioner and Ryan Mansell ’15 the respondent. The two finalists faced a distinguished and formidable panel of guest judges: Hon. Albert Diaz of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Hon. David Ezra of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas; Hon. Marcos E. Lopez, M.B.A. ’97/J.D. ’98, of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico; and Hon. Goodwin Liu for the California Supreme Court.

After deliberations, the panel awarded first place to Mansell.

The judges expressed high praise for the competitors’ substantive knowledge and mastery of difficult case law. Judge Diaz remarked that the competitors were so polished that he nearly forgot that he was judging a first-year competition. Furthermore, every judge noted that the competitors’ advocacy skills would place them among the upper echelon of lawyers before the judges’ respective courts. “Come to Puerto Rico! We would welcome such excellent advocates,” professed Judge Lopez.

“Having participated in other formats of competitive oral advocacy, and with Langfan being my first moot court experience, I can say in a broad sense that Langfan was by far and away the most professional and enjoyable tournament I have participated in, and in a narrow sense that it was a wonderful and engaging introduction to mooting,” said the winner, Mansell. “I could not have imagined, prior to Langfan, that I would have had the opportunity to speak before such an esteemed panel of judges as a first-year law student.”

“There is no public speaking opportunity for a first year law student that compares to the Langfan Finals,” finalist DiGennaro said. “To moot in front of a full courtroom and withstand the probing questions of prestigious federal and state justices with nothing more than my arguments was an exhilarating experience. It was something I will never forget.”

“The Moot Court Board is very pleased with this year's Langfan Family First-Year Moot Court Competition,” said Moot Court Chancellor Jon Underwood ’14. “An impressive number of 1L students entered the competition and they displayed exceptional oral advocacy skills, even though the majority of competitors were mooting for the first time. Finalists Mansell and DiGennaro were staunch advocates for their sides and both held up extremely well to intense questioning. The Moot Court Board applauds their achievements!”

Mansell will receive a prize of $500, and DiGennaro will receive $250. The prizes, as well as the operating expenses of the competition, are supported through a 2002 endowment made by William K. Langfan and Marion Langfan. This year, the winner will also receive a $350 scholarship and the runner-up a $250 scholarship from BARBRI.