Supreme Court justices appeared reluctant Tuesday to decide a key patent law case in a way that would, as one justice put it, establish “monopolies in this country beyond belief” over naturally occurring phenomena.

Justice Stephen Breyer expressed that concern during oral arguments in Laboratory Corp. of America v. Metabolite, a dispute that tests the scope of patentability. Other justices indicated sympathy with the solicitor general’s view that the case should be sent back to lower courts for further review.

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