You just can't keep everyone happy when it comes to patents, it seems. The criticisms of the system for protecting life forms have long been known and articulated, and these have led to checks and balances in the patent system which are intended to preserve the public interest and to take account of moral sensitivities (for example click here for Directive 98/44 on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions, the so-called Biopatent Directive, in the European Union).
Now well-known patent critic Professor John Sulston is anxious that the patent system should not confer protection on the investment of those whose inventions consist not of real life forms but of synthetic ones. According to the BBC,
"A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering. Professor John Sulston said it would inhibit important research. US-based Dr Craig Venter led the artificial life form research, details of which were published last week.The IPKat wonders what his readers think about Professor Sulston's comments.
Prof Sulston and Dr Venter clashed over intellectual property when they raced to sequence the genome in 2000. ...
Now the old rivals are at odds again over Dr Venter's efforts to apply for patents on the artificially created organism, nicknamed Synthia [on which see Gena Mason's post on PatLit here]. The team outlined the remarkable advance last week in the prestigious journal Science.
But Professor Sulston, who is based at the University of Manchester, said patenting would be "extremely damaging".
"I've read through some of these patents and the claims are very, very broad indeed," Professor Sulston told BBC News. [The broader the claim, the greater the risk of it being overbroad, at least in Europe]
"I hope very much these patents won't be accepted because they would bring genetic engineering under the control of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). They would have a monopoly on a whole range of techniques."
A spokesman for Dr Venter, of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California, said: "There are a number of companies working in the synthetic genomic/biology space and also many academic labs.
"Most if not all of these have likely filed some degree of patent protection on a variety of aspects of their work so it would seem unlikely that any one group, academic centre or company would be able to hold a 'monopoly' on anything.
"As the JCVI team and Dr Venter have said, open dialogue and discussion on all issues surrounding synthetic genomics/biology, including intellectual property, is very necessary for this field so these questions and discussions are all very important."
... Professor Sulston made the comments at the Royal Society in London where he was discussing a report entitled Who owns Science? The report was produced by the Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University, which the professor chairs. [On 'Who owns science' and Professor Sulston's contribution to the debate see earlier IPKat post here]
The study details an increased use of patents by researchers [But that's good news, isn't it?].
"My objections to patenting human genes or genes from existing living organisms is that they are inventions or discoveries," said Professor Sulston. ... He believes that the over-use of patents is inhibiting research that could otherwise greatly benefit society, such as better healthcare for the poor. [Patents inhibit research? This is a belief, it seems. Where's the data?]
Professor Sulston commented: "[It's fashionable to think] that it's important to have strong intellectual property and that it's essential for promoting innovation. But there's no evidence that it does promote innovation. There's an unwillingness to consider any problems." [the suggestion that this is some sort of fashion or fad is insulting to the many people who have toiled to produce data to prove or disprove links between the availability of patents, the creation of innovations and the investment that takes them from laboratory to marketplace]
But he also believes that these arguments are now beginning to be accepted.
Last November, a US company, Myriad Genetics, lost parts of its patent rights on two breast cancer genes following a legal challenge by civil rights groups [This makes it looks as though the ruling was on a civil rights issue -- the Kat thought it was a matter of patent law: see eg here]".