Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Of course, SCOTUS would issue this decision while I was traveling. It's not as groundbreaking as anyone would hope, cuts a very narrow path ruling on Bilski's business method patent (not patent-eligible under 101) and little else. There are many nice quotes suggesting the Supremes don't want any more expansive of a reading of what might be patent-eligible, but neither do they seem to be unanimous in wanting to narrow it. All of which is to say, more status quo for software, business methods, and other such things. But what does it mean for the Myriad case? Well this also seems to be good news, as the Bilski decision relies on the holdings of Chakrabarthy,Gottschalk v. Benson, Diamond v. Diehr, and Parker v. Flook, which line of cases establishes the exception under 101 holding products of nature and abstract ideas ineligible for patent. Sweet relied on Bilski in rejecting the patented methods for the BRCA diagnostic test, holding that the mere comparison of two strings of DNA was too abstract to be eligible for patent under section 101.

As a brief philosophical aside: Abstract is not the correct, operative phrase in any of these cases, logically-speaking. Something is either abstract or concrete. There's the ratio "Pi" (which is an abstract entity) and there are circular objects, which are concrete. There is no continuum. What the courts all mean is "overly-general." So, "the placing of luncheon meat between two pieces of bread" encompasses too much, is overly general, and not patent-eligible under this notion. But a particular new, non-obvious, useful sandwich would be eligible.... More to come as I ruminate on the case and its various concurrences....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Proof that science works

This week, a research team out of the Cleveland Clinic announced that they had successfully tested a breast cancer vaccine on mice. The work to develop this vaccine was made possible with a mere 1.5 million USD grant from the National Institutes of Health, a federal funding agency in the US. Oddly, while defenders of the Myriad patents on BRCA1 and 2 often claim that the diagnostic test wouldn't have been developed but for patents, and that the money generated by such patents is necessary for further breakthroughs in health, there is no evidence that Myriad has invested any of its over 300 million USD per year profits from the BRCA1 and 2 tests in developing any cures. Why would they? For the remaining 5 years of their patent, they can rake in their monopoly rates, generating huge profits above and beyond the costs of the original research, and not have to invest in any new research. They also now have a patent on the pancreatic cancer gene and can rake in more money from those diagnostics. So why bother with a cure?

Publicly-funded science, on the other hand, devoid of the conflict of interest generated by the corporate need for profits, works. The work on the breast cancer vaccine is showing just how. I could find no patent, either, registered for the work on the vaccine. Perhaps, like Jonas Salk, Dr. Vincent Tuohy would view such a patent as the equivalent of patenting the sun. Let's hope. Meanwhile, this story illustrates how science can work, and why the arguments regarding the necessity of patents to fuel medical breakthroughs is bunk.