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An attorney for the U.S. government has asked a trio of appellate judges to imagine a magic microscope that would allow them to gaze into and through everything in nature, arguing that no company can legally claim ownership over anything seen though such a lens.

If the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals adopted this novel “magic microscope test,” it would eliminate the patents Salt Lake-based Myriad Genetics holds on two genes related to breast and ovarian cancer and overturn 35 years of established patent law. That left one of the judges to admit to being a bit “skittish” about the case.

The panel of judges for the Federal Circuit questioned attorneys for 70 minutes Monday morning and did so before a few hundred spectators, which is an unusually long time for oral arguments and an unusually large crowd.

At the crux of this high-profile case is whether Myriad can patent isolated segments of DNA, the molecules containing the genetic instructions to build life.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation filed suit in 2009 on behalf of...