LETTER: Patent medicine for genes

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From Mr Terence Stancliffe

Sir: The European Patent Office has not said that human genes should be the intellectual property of international drugs companies: human genes in themselves are not new inventions, which are the EPO's concern. Both Tom Wilkie ("In patent need of surgery", 5 September) and David Shapiro (letter, 11 September) write of patenting genes, but the patents I see are for pharmaceuticals or diagnostics related to genetic discoveries.

Human genes themselves arenot industrialisable objects, though new useful derivatives of them may be. A patent confers not ownership of any object, but the right to control industrial use of some new technology. The pharmaceutical industry is mainly interested in patent protection for pharmaceuticals. The availability of patents in this field is practically essential for the industry.

Lobby groups should concentrate on getting patent offices and courts to keep a closer eye on the difficult task of ensuring that a given patent is made truly commensurate in scope with the contribution made by the inventor, neither oppressively broad nor unfairly narrow. There also may well be improvements to be made in the availability of licensing by operation of law; for example, where a patent fairly covers more than one therapeutic application and, for some reason, no agreement is reached on the implementation of one of them for the benefit of a small patient-group.

Yours faithfully,

Terry Stancliffe

Chartered Patent Agent

London, SW19