Patenting of genes and sequences from Arabidopsis

Analysis of the recent history of patent documents involving Arabidopsis provides some interesting information regarding the evolution of present day patenting strategies for organisms whose genomes are available. It also offers the opportunity to investigate Arabidopsis as a “model” for future patenting of other plant genomes.

The following simple search was performed using PatentLens to search the term Arabidopsis in full text patent documents (detailed search parameters here). Although it must be emphasized that this search is likely to overestimate the number of patent documents making claims to Arabidopsis “inventions” (it will also uncover documents making reference to Arabidopsis), its main purpose should be seen as a rough measure of the impact of Arabidopsis on patent publications.

Figure 1: Patent documents containing the term “Arabidopsis” in the full text

  • Although patent documents back to 1976 contain the term “Arabidopsis“, there was a rapid increase in the number of documents referring to Arabidopsis between 1990-95.
  • Analysis based on filing date demonstrates a clear decline after 2002 in such documents.
  • A similar trend appears in 2005 for the analysis based on publication date (although it may be too early to tell for certain, it is not unreasonable to expect that the publication date trend will follow, and lag, that of the filing date trend).
  • This pattern reflects what may be expected for a mature technology, where the initial rush to patent a new technology has ended.

Figure 2: Interest in Arabidopsis as gauged from comparisons of patent applications, and journal and sequence publications

Although the number of patent filings of documents containing the term “Arabidopsis” fell in 2004 and 2005, the number of deposited Arabidopsis sequences in GenBank remains high (although there is a large variation in the number of sequences deposited from year to year).  Additionally, “Arabidopsis” appears as a search term in an ever increasing number of PubMed entries at NCBI.

One interpretation of the sequence and publication trends is that interest in Arabidopsis as a model organism remains high, and possibly increases with time.  However, this later interest (after 2003) has not translated into an increase in patent applications.  Such observations are consistent with what may be expected for a mature technology.

(Again, please note that PubMed entries contain the word “Arabidopsis” in the text, they need not necessarily be publications directed towards Arabidopsis. This is similar to the case of full text searches using PatentLens. Hence we argue that the trends in this data are comparable, providing that the user understands the limitations of the datasets and searches.)

One of the caveats with the analysis above is that it does not focus on patents making claim to sequences from Arabidopsis.  Such an analysis is difficult due to the fact that more than one sequence can be claimed in a single patent or patent application.  Hence a plot of the number of Arabidopsis sequences in claims against the year of application may look very different from a plot of patent documents containing claimed Arabidopsis sequences versus year of application.