BI1RGW at ibm.sheffield.ac.uk BI1RGW at ibm.sheffield.ac.uk
Fri Oct 11 06:44:34 EST 1991

Subject: Re: Sequence patents

When a DNA sequence is "patented", what exactly is the subject of the patent?
(I suspect this is different in different countries). The previous comment
about the sequence being a discovery rather than an invention is correct, but
patents are not about protecting inventions themselves - "intellectual
property rights" are what is protected. It is arguable that DNA
sequences are not novel, in that they've "already been done".
Conversely, someone has to do some work to generate previously
unpublished sequence data, and it can be argued that they have the right
to *exploit* that data in a commercial way - testing kits,
fingerprinting etc.

Of course, these arguments explain why patent lawyers drive around in 4L
Jaguars while scientists use the bus. The opportunities for argument and
drawing fine distinctions are endless.

Who owns the patent rights anyway? Presumably most people working on the
Human Genome Project get funding from the NIH, MRC or similar bodies.
Surely a condition of funding is that those funding bodies own the
patent rights? If not, why not? A corollary to that is that presumably
patent applications can only be filed with the funding body's consent.
So maybe we should blame the funding organisations? The situation
reminds me of the occasion of the "invention" of monoclonal antibodies
by Milstein et al. Apparently, at the time the group *pleaded* with the
MRC to allow them to patent MAs, but the MRC wasn't prepared to allow it
(probably on grounds of cost!). Of course, had they been patented, the
MRC would now be more than self-funding.

So, maybe its not surprising that at the slightest chance, people file
patents. Let's face it, who wouldn't want to own the rights to a
comparable discovery?

Robin Walters.

Robert Hill Institute, U. of Sheffield, UK.

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