Bioephemera provided an excellent overview of the ongoing appeal to the “Myriad gene patent case.”
Jessica Palmer wrote:
Myriad Genetics’s patents on the breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) were invalid because genes are unpatentable products of nature.
Could Myriad Benefit If They Lose Their Case?
I believe that if Myriad and the biotechnology industry itself embraces open innovation, that ironically they could indeed benefit. Let me explain.
A review in Science stated (April 2010):
A legal bombshell hit the biotech world last week: A federal judge in New York City used sweeping language to invalidate a handful of human gene patents, casting doubt on hundreds more. The decision applies only in New York state and is sure to be appealed–a process that could take years. Still, it undercuts the idea that DNA sequence can be owned.
My response, published as an E-Letter in Science described how Myriad could actually benefit if they lost their case:
Doctrine of Equivalents Driving Research?
Responding to court rulings such as the one reported in E. Marshall’s News of the Week story (“Cancer gene patents ruled invalid,” 9 April 2010, p. 153), scientists interested in studying a patented gene often resort to strategies such as selecting minor variations of the original gene’s sequence–for example, by mutating several DNA bases. In doing so, the doctrine of equivalents as articulated by U.S. patent law becomes the lynchpin regarding how basic research is done. The same scientific acumen applied to navigating around patents could be applied to the next discovery. The federal court decision regarding Myriad, if upheld, could foster incentives from an open innovation system that not only benefits the public but, ironically, private industry, including Myriad.
So, what should drive research? Should it be patent law, the “doctrine of equivalents”? Legal cases such as Myriad could serve as a turning point for scientists to embrace open innovation, liberating them from the constraints that patents can impose. To become profitable, industry itself would have to redefine how they share their information and how incentives are shared amongst the key stakeholders, including scientists, consumers and manufacturers.
Is this possible, or is it a pipe dream?