Transparency tools in gene patenting for informing policy and practice

Nature Biotechnology,  December 06, 2013

In the recent decision Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics1, the US Supreme Court held that naturally occurring sequences from human genomic DNA are not patentable subject matter. Only certain complementary DNAs (cDNA), modified sequences and methods to use sequences are potentially patentable. It is likely that this distinction will hold for all DNA sequences, whether animal, plant or microbial2. However, it is not clear whether this means that other naturally occurring informational molecules, such as polypeptides (proteins) or polysaccharides, will also be excluded from patents.

The decision underscores a pressing need for precise analysis of patents that disclose and reference genetic sequences, especially in the claims. Similarly, data sets, standards compliance and analytical tools must be improved—in particular, data sets and analytical tools must be made openly accessible—in order to provide a basis for effective decision making and policy setting to support biological innovation. Here, we present a web-based platform that allows such data aggregation, analysis and visualization in an open, shareable facility. To demonstrate the potential for the extension of this platform to global patent jurisdictions, we discuss the results of a global survey of patent offices that shows that much progress is still needed in making these data freely available for aggregation in the first place.

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