Chapter 10: Conclusions and Implications of Rice Genome Patenting

Our analysis has demonstrated that only 0.26% of the rice genome is recited in the claims of granted U.S. patents. This fraction is based on the actual, non-redundant coverage of the genome by the sequences that we identified . In determining this percentage, we included all sequences recited in claims, regardless of whether they encoded proteins. In contrast, the analysis by Jensen and Murray found that around 20% of the coding sequencesof the human genome were claimed in granted U.S. patents (Science 310:239-240). Because the difference between the rice and human might be accounted by use of different metrics, we recalculated the fraction of rice genome in claims according to the Jensen and Murray formula.  For this calculation, the number of coding sequences in claims (213) was divided by the number of rice coding sequences in the genome (37,544 according to Nature, 2005, 436:793-800).  Even using this formula, the percent coverage is roughly 0.57%, which is still substantially smaller than found for human.

The patent applications tell a different story: roughly 74% of the rice genome is recited in the claims of U.S. patent applications. The high fraction is at least partially due to bulk sequence applications, which claim hundreds or thousands of nucleotide sequences. It is unlikely however, that many of these sequences will actually be claimed in a granted patent.  Under current U.S. patent law, a granted patent rarely issues with more than one sequence. While it is possible that continuations of these applications will be filed, but they will likely only issue with one sequence as well. Furthermore, changes proposed to U.S. patent law include a limit on the number of continuations that may be filed from a given patent application. Therefore, it is unlikely that the percent of the rice genome that is encompassed by patent claims in the U.S. will ever approach the 20% figure published by Jensen and Murray for coding sequences. Thus, the majority of the rice genome is in the public domain and won’t be patentable as compositions of matter in the future.

These conclusions, however, are confined to the United States.  As such, the need remains to plot a rice landscape in other jurisdictions; particularly in countries that are the primary producers or consumers of rice.  Difficulties in determining landscapes for these countries include, the dearth of patent information in key jurisdictions and unknown case law. As Patent Lens adds new patent data, transparency will be increased – to everyone’s benefit.