Who Patents Genes? The U.S. National Institutes of Health Has More than Twice as Many Patent Applications as the Runner-Up
Gene patents are one of the most controversial areas of intellectual property. “How can they patent genes?” people ask. “It’s like patenting blue eyes.” Even those not deep into the issue have likely heard of the cloud of litigation surrounding Myriad Genetics, a Salt Lake City company that sells a test for diagnosing breast cancer based on a woman’s genetic make-up. (Myriad Genetics has an informative backgrounder explaining what can and what cannot be patented.) The U.S. Supreme Court struck down one Myriad Genetics’ patent-protection in June 2013.
So, I was somewhat surprised to see a new report by the global law firm, Marks Clerk, which reported that the leading patent-filer for sequencing technology, personalized medicine and synthetic biology in the decade to 2013 was not a corporation, but the U.S. National Institutes of Health, with 360 applications of the total 1,752. Indeed, government research facilities, both in the U.S. and other countries, accounted for 617 applications — over one third of the total (and this does not include public universities, like the University of California.)