To be honest, you're right; it's extreme given the current climate and how many enzymes are patent-protected. But I do want to make a point here: where should the line be drawn? How much 3D shape does code need before it becomes a blueprint? It seems to me, honestly, that this sort of thing should be protected by copyright, not patent law.
Right now people are getting a lot of low-quality patents for enzymes that would make no sense applied to physical devices; Clontech has one or more patent(s) on reverse transciptase for disabling part of the native enzyme. Knowing to disable that part requires a fair amount of expert knowledge and research, but actually carrying out the work can be done in a number of ways, and their patent lists specific amino acids to knock out. That means someone else can still get a patent for the exact same functionality if they happen to break the enzyme at a different critical point. Because the patents involve sequence-level jargon, they're trivializing themselves instead of focusing purely on functionality, which is why (a) Myriad was allowed to get exclusive ownership of a naturally-occurring (if abnormal) sequence, and (b) there are a lot of competitors in the enzyme market for things like DNA replication.
That competition may be good, but it only exists because the patents are too specific in a lot of cases. It exists in circumvention of the spirit of the patent system, not because the products themselves are really all that patent-worthy. Specifically for domain-disabling, in a lot of cases the critical residues to mutate can be determined systematically with little creative work... this is far, far away from the kind of ingenuity involved in designing a new rubber sole, car engine, or a sophisticated algorithm patent.
In my opinion, the bar for enzyme patents needs to be raised to the level of "novel mechanism of action," like a really fancy chemical reaction patent. If you're just knocking the out teeth of, rearranging, and truncating parts of nature, then what you're really doing is creating a remix of something pre-existing, like some kind of bizarre chemical found poem or (gods forbid) an AMV. It's essentially art, not invention.
The method can be described as "put the enzyme in conditions where it can operate naturally." The conditions are defined by the enzyme (i.e. nature), and for most enzymes there's no cleverness required to figure them out; just a bit of trial and error to determine what components of the original environment are important, so even if the natural defence is ignored, the method for getting reverse transcriptase to work would be unpatentable because it's obvious. Patents involving enzymes usually include either (a) a really heinously tricky replacement for natural conditions, such as developing a new molecule or mechanism to emulate an environment that's hard to recreate on a bench, or (b) an engineered enzyme. There are actually engineered reverse transcriptases which are patent-protected, but Myriad isn't an enzyme company; they just do testing. Their entire business model is dependent on exclusive control of information.
Also, even more obnoxiously, even if cDNA didn't exist naturally, you can produce an identical piece of DNA—atom for atom—using a copying and splicing technique known as PCR. It's slightly more inconvenient to do this, but people will do it anyway, and Myriad's shareholders seem to think they can sue them too.
But what if they then circumvent those laws? Maybe an anti-anti-circumvention law circumvention law is in order...
I was trying to come up with one earlier, but I could only think of a car manufacturing analogy. We'll try it anyway:
There's this really good car design that's in the public domain, and it's really popular. Unfortunately, some of the factories that make the car have screwed up molds in some of the ducting that cause the airbags to fill up with motor oil at random. (Sophisticated, I know. Bear with me.) The loss of motor oil eventually causes the engine to overheat and the pistons to fuse, destroying the car. (Okay, so it's not a really good car design. It's a Lada. But still.)
To fix the car, you have to remove the airbags, but this is an obvious safety hazard and wildly undesirable, so no one wants to remove them if it's unnecessary. Determining whether or not they need to be removed depends on knowing the shape of the gasket that causes the leak: a tiny, hard-to-reach component buried deep in the gearbox that can't be checked without disassembling the car.
Aha, says Myriad, but we have a solution—our experts took a mold of the gasket, and if the mold fits on the gasket, you'll be able to tell if your car's at risk! You just stick the mold on the end of a crowbar and put it in a maintenance port that's normally too small for someone to reach inside. If the mold clicks on, then you know it's a match; otherwise, you're fine.
Brilliant! says every mechanic in the world, and they go out to make the mold, because a lot of them have seen these terrible cars and they have examples of the malformed gasket on hand.
But no! says Myriad, who has patented the mold. This is our invention, and you can't use it! Here is our patent.
But it's just a copy of a broken version of something in the public domain! The gasket's shape is already in our cars! says everyone else. In fact, there are molds just like the one you made in the factory! So they take Myriad to court, and the judge says:
1. Since the original mold that made the screwed up gaskets is in the public domain, you can't patent it.
2. But Myriad did work by making the mold and they're very clever, so I want them to be able to patent their invention. (Their lawyers convinced me of this.)
3. What really matters is the shape of the mold, though, not the mold itself. Myriad may not own the factory molds, but they own the shape. If you can cut up one of the factory molds and put it on your crowbars you're fine, and you can make copies of it too, but if you make your own the same way Myriad did, you're infringing on their patent.
4. In fact, we're just going to write this judgement in such an ambiguous way that you're infringing even if you use the original mold, because a copy of it is physically indistinguishable from Myriad's molds.
And that's how fucked up the patent system is.
Remember the music videos at the end of Bill Nye episodes? That Bio-Rad commercial is like that for adults. Unfortunately, none of my professors sang along when they brought it up in class.
If it helps, there's a sequel, although it's not as generic.