Biotechnology Patents

Tony Parsons - Pfizer Central Research MBPCR at DLVH.DARESBURY.AC.UK
Tue Oct 8 04:50:00 EST 1991


BIOSCI note relating to patents raises some interesting questions about freedom
of information in the increasingly market-driven, accountant-steered
socio-economic and academic environment that most scientists find themselves in
these days.

I attended an extremely interesting seminar by Derwent Publications who
specialise in patent information and have recently siezed upon primary sequence
data as an area that could be exploited.  Derwent have an exclusive agreement
with Intelligenetics to provide a database of patented sequences that have not
or will not appear in the literature (the fact that both something is novel and
previously unpublished is crucial to the granting of a patent).  Now it can
take up to 18 months for a patent to be granted and only then can it be
published, though it is debatable whether anyone who is interested in claiming
a patent would be interested in the kudos of publication anyway!

GENESEQ - the database of patented sequences (both protein and nucleotide) can
now be purchased with a small subset of the searching tools from IG (previously
the whole IG Suite had to be purchased).  The database is `owned' by Derwent and
the analysis tools by Intelligenetics. Currently the database is growing at a
pace similar to GenBank and EMBL given its humble beginnings.  By 1993 the
backfile of patents to 1981 will be covered as well as all current applications
for patents and it is estimated this will amount to some 40,000 sequences PLUS
all future patent applications!  There are already 15,00 sequences in the
database (released quarterly) and research by IG has indicated that more than
60% of the nucleotide and protein sequences in the patent literature are
completely novel and do not appear elsewhere in established literature

I am worried by this trend for a number of reasons :-

(1) How much information is not getting in to the public domain (and by public
    I dont mean public to those who can afford to buy GENESEQ).

(2) This is yet another database format to contend with (its bad enough that
    GenBank, EMBL and DDBJ cant settle on a common format - though in fairness
    the CODATA working party are striving for Harmony)

(3) Will a scientists first priority become the patenting of a sequence or its
    publication?  What will the effect of this be on EMBL, DDBJ and GenBank?

What do you think?

Tony Parsons - Pfizer Central Research

Disclaimer :

The views expressed are my own and do not reflect the views of Pfizer Ltd.
Further, I am in no way connected with either Derwent Publications
or the Intelligentics Inc.

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