LETTER: A patent need for discussion

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From Mr David Shapiro

Sir: The European Patent Office (EPO), through its public relations director (letter, 21 September), confirms the complaint made by your science editor, Tom Wilkie, and by me, that its consultation document appears to have been circulated only among those professionally concerned with patents. So what if it went to "other international organisations, professional associations ... that specialise in intellectual property rights (my emphasis)"? This means that, on matters of general public interest, it went only to those like your correspondent Terry Stancliffe (letter, 21 September), who writes as a chartered patent agent. For only such people can distinguish as new inventions, or so-called pharmaceuticals, what to others are sophisticated ways of manipulating patent offices into patenting human genome sequences, which are really discoveries.

What is required is public discussion of the justification of the patenting, for example, of the breast cancer gene BRCA 1. That patent was granted by the US Patent Office, but the EPO might usefully discuss the points of principle involved.

The EPO, it seems, is at pains to avoid such a public discussion.

Yours faithfully,

David Shapiro

Executive Secretary

Nuffield Council on Bioethics

London, WC1