In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people can’t patent isolated human genes, which it considers a product of nature, but they can patent something exceptionally similar: cDNA, a synthesized copy from which someone has removed the noncoding parts. Given that fine line, it’s not entirely clear how the decision will play out in practice or how it will affect work on nonhuman genes. But it’s a hot area of debate.
Earlier this year, Dutch scientists received a patent from their country on the newly discovered MERS virus that killed at least 30 people. The researchers had isolated the virus in their laboratory from a sample sent by a Saudi doctor. The Saudi Ministry of Health protested that the patent would restrict research and lead to more deaths; the World Health Organization (WHO) said it would investigate the legality and take action. But they’ve got it backward. Patents are one of the best tools for quickly fighting disease.
Definitely! I hate to say it out loud, in this era of "openness", but if you DON’T patent things sometimes, you may well have messed up the use of it for ever – because no-one commercial will touch anything that isn’t protected / protectable.
Which means that funky new vaccine you just published on without protecting it will be forever "an interesting paper", but never a product.
The NIH labs, for example, patent everything novel that passes through – because then they have a say in how it is commercialised, and can stop it being blocked by some company that wants to keep its own proprietary product current for that much longer.
Our lab has quite a big patent portfolio, for example: we have something like 14 patent families, and over 60 individual country patents, which gives us a reasonable stock-in-trade when it comes to licencing things to companies. It has also given us leverage in getting money to work on new / improved versions of vaccines, for example, which has helped keep the lab afloat for a goodly number of years now!
We also negotiated rights to licencing / commercialisation for certain things, such as guarantees for low pricing for South Africa and Africa, keeping all rights for Africa and sharing rights elsewhere, and so on.
So they can be a tool for good, as well as all the other things they are accused of being!
Thanks, Arvind Varsani, for alerting me to this.
See on www.popsci.com