MORE ON THE PATENT OFFICE….Not to belabor this whole patent business, but it’s good to see the New York Times get into the game today, with an editorial that hits pretty much all the key points.
Ironically, the Times also has a news story today that offers a near-perfect example of the harm that over-broad patents can do. A new study suggests flaws in a test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes ? mutations that have been linked to breast cancer. But a Utah bio-tech company called Myriad Genetics holds the patents on that test, and on any testing for BRCA1 and 2. So without Myriad’s permission, no one can develop a more accurate test (or a cheaper one ? Myriad charges about one third again as much as some university researchers used to). And frequently that permission isn’t granted: several researchers told me they’d given up studying the BRCA genes after getting cease-and-desist letters from Myriad.
What the Times doesn’t mention is that the European patent office has revoked Myriad’s patents, concluding, essentially, that Myriad’s contribution to the ongoing research which ultimately allowed them to isolate the BRCA genes was not significant enough to merit giving them monopoly rights to any use of the genes. Europe’s patent laws are less business-friendly than ours, but some American experts argue that the US patents are equally faulty. So the patents should perhaps have never been granted at all. If they hadn’t, we might be catching more cases of breast cancer.