An international project has developed a free and open public resource that will bring much-needed transparency to the murky and contentious world of gene patenting.
In a paper from Cambia and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) published in this week's Nature Biotechnology journal, researchers revealed that overworked patent offices are struggling to keep up with the rapid explosion in information and technology that genetic sequences represent.
"Apparently, many patent offices have no way of tracking genetic sequences disclosed in patents and currently do not provide them in machine-searchable format," said principal author Professor Osmat Jefferson, a QUT academic who leads an international team analysing biological patents for the open-access web resource, The Lens.
"This likely means patents are being granted for genes that are not 'newly discovered' at all, because the patent offices have no way of really knowing."
Professor Jefferson said patenting the genes and proteins of humans and other living things had fallen under intense scrutiny since the US Supreme Court ruled in June this year that naturally occurring genetic material could not be patented.
"Gene patenting is an area where almost everyone has an opinion - passions run high but until now the evidence has been lacking," Professor Jefferson said.
"What is happening? Who's doing the patenting? Why are they doing it? How much are they doing it? What rights are being granted? And how much is our society benefiting from these biological patent teachings? "No one really knows because the whole system is opaque."
The Cambia/QUT team found that while major patent offices claimed to use sophisticated search tools and databases to access patent-disclosed sequences, those search mechanisms are not generally available to the public and may not be accessible to the dozens of patent offices in jurisdictions with limited budgets
|Contact: Kate Haggman|
Queensland University of Technology