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Patent or publish (or both)? 25 years of Mabs!

Mike Clark mrc7 at cam.ac.uk
Mon Aug 7 04:30:20 EST 2000

In article <ew3j5.107078$7I1.1969116 at news1.rdc2.on.home.com>, Donald Forsdyke
<URL:mailto:forsdyke at post.queensu.ca> wrote:
> "Mike Clark" <mrc7 at cam.ac.uk> wrote in message
> news:ant0318281cbPk=+ at mrc7acorn1.path.cam.ac.uk...
> > A question of should academics be more interested in publication or
> > patenting? Attitudes have changed over 25 years.
> Hello Mike,
>                    Thank you for posting the link to the letter. But,
> what do you mean by a change in attitude, and how do you know that
> attitudes have changed over 25 years?
>                    I suspect what you mean is that those researchers with
> a primary interest in patenting have thrived and those with a primary
> interest in publication have not thrived. With the Darwinian struggle
> between researchers, and with the increasing erosion of academia by
> industrial interests, those with a primary interest in publication may
> have fallen by the way-side, but they (and the views they hold) are still
> there.
> Sincerely,
> Donald Forsdyke. Discussion Leader. Bionet.journals.note

The attitudes I was referring to are several. If you read Cesar Milstein's
article in IT and also listen to the video of his talk at the MRC
conference, you will see he makes several points. Firstly there was no
simple mechanism at the time for scientists employed by the MRC to explore
the idea of patenting their work. All patents filed by MRC employees were
supposed to be filed through the the government agency known as NRDC,
(National Research and Development Corporation). The letter I have released
is from them but you will note that this response is over a year late.
There is still a dispute between Cesar and the MRC/NRDC over what happened
to the first letter and manuscript which the NRDC patents Department claim
not to have ever received.

However even a year later the NRDC seem not to have realised what the
commercial possibilities might be, as can be clearly seen. Despite this
lack of vision by the NRDC in the UK, the Wistar Institute in the USA did
file patents, and the biotech startup Centecor was founded on the basis of
antibody patents in the USA.

When David Secher again approached the MRC/NRDC to patent a
monoclonal antibody against IFN-gamma he was told that it wasn't to be
done. He with Cesar's knowledge did file a patent and as a result was
actually threatened with dismissal by the MRC. Later they had a change of
mind when the patent was successfully handed over as part of the portfolio
for the UK startup Celltech and David Secher was appointed as the first
Industrial Liaison officer by the MRC.

The point is that it is possible to publish and to patent providing that
the mechanisms are in place and streamlined. Organisations such as Genetech
have had a long history of publishing their best work. The attitude in the
UK particularly as advised often by NRDC was to try to keep work secret for
as long as possible i.e. delay publication, the example given by Cesar
Milstein being the rat myeloma Y3/Ag1.2.3.

It isn't helped by patent law in the UK and Europe which invalidates an
application if there is evidence of prior disclosure. In the USA it is
possible to file a patent up to a year after publication. Indeed
you can use evidence from others subsequent published work to validate your
own speculations in patent claims. Something needs to be done to level the
international playing fields of patents, for example a grace period to
allow some limited disclosure if ideas not to invalidate an application.

Mike                           <URL:http://www.path.cam.ac.uk/~mrc7/>
 o/ \\    //            ||  ,_ o   M.R. Clark, PhD. Division of Immunology
<\__,\\  //   __o       || /  /\,  Cambridge University, Dept. Pathology
 ">    ||   _`\<,_    //  \\ \> |  Tennis Court Rd., Cambridge CB2 1QP
  `    ||  (_)/ (_)  //    \\ \_   Tel.+44 1223 333705  Fax.+44 1223 333875

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