[Ip-health] Synthetic life patents 'damaging'

Riaz Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Tue May 25 01:17:46 PDT 2010

[More patent thickets and monopolisation issues... if there is not
enough broad based basic science then well more scientists may have to
picket the thicket... & As the Nokia/Apple battles on patents hots up,
there will be more concerns about technology governance... perhaps the
legal  sophists in the US will opt to differentiate that techie
judgement for a sector specific approach to maintain US petty patents
instead of letting Finland's Nokia benefit... otherwise it can result
in a precedent for pharma as well... and the US gov will want
corporates to sort this out instead of taking a line (as has been the
case, with Pharma benefitting from the status quo) - whatever happens,
dysfunctional precedents and policies will be retained as the preserve
for the Third World - no need to break that precedent!!!... thoughts

"Page last updated at 21:02 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 22:02 UK

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News Synthetic cell
(Science) Details of the synthetic cell advance were announced last

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.

Prof Sulston and Dr Venter clashed over intellectual property when
they raced to sequence the genome in 2000.

Craig Venter led a private sector effort which was to have seen
charges for access to the information. John Sulston was part of a
government and charity-backed effort to make the genome freely
available to all scientists.

"The confrontation 10 years ago was about data release," Professor Sulston said.

"We said that this was the human genome and it should be in the public
domain. And I'm extremely glad we managed to pull this out of the
'Range of techniques'

Now the old rivals are at odds again over Dr Venter's efforts to apply
for patents on the artificially created organism, nicknamed Synthia.
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.

"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

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

"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.

The study details an increased use of patents by researchers.

"My objections to patenting human genes or genes from existing living
organisms is that they are inventions or discoveries," said Professor

"The problem has become much worse since I raised the issue 10 years ago."

He believes that the over-use of patents is inhibiting research that
could otherwise greatly benefit society, such as better healthcare for
the poor.

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."

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."



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