Posts Tagged ‘Patent’

Who Owns Life?

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Those who are not patent attorneys may be surprised to learn that it is possible to patent the human genetic code.

In fact, approximately 20% of all human genes are patented.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has granted patents on genes and their DNA building blocks since the early 1980s, but this practice has recently reentered public awareness due to a lawsuit (Association for Molecular Pathology v. US Patent & Trademark Office) by a breast cancer survivor against Myriad Genetics, a company that has obtained patents on two genes closely associated with increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. These patents make Myriad the sole provider of tests to detect those genes, at a cost of over $3,000 per test.

Patents give their owners exclusive rights to use, manufacture, or sell the patented invention for 20 years from filing of the application. In order to qualify for a patent, an invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious to an expert in the field. However, patents cannot be granted on laws of nature or theoretical phenomena, for example the Theory of Relativity. Prior to the 1980s, the PTO considered that life forms were equivalent to the laws of nature, and therefore not patentable subject matter.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in Diamond vs. Chakrabarty (1980) that a scientist could obtain a patent on a lab-created bacterium that could consume oil slicks, on the grounds that the organism did not occur in nature, and therefore was a “manufacture” or “composition of matter” under 35 USC Section 101, and not equivalent to a law of nature. (more…)

モノ作りと知恵作りとライセング, Part2

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Making Things, Making Knowledge, and Licensing, Part 2>> English translation








「金融危機の影響がもっとも大きく出た日本。GDPはまもなく中国に抜かれ3位に転落するのは必至である。こうした中、日本はグローバル経済の中で、何を作り、何で稼いでいくべきなのか。世界最強のブランドと言われた“メイド・イン・ジャパン”が、出口を求めて必死にもがいている。いま日本の製造業が直面している世界の地殻変動、それは、猛スピードで技術が陳腐化し、製品の差別化が難しく、しかも製品の寿命が超短命に陥っていることだ。メイド・イン・ジャパ ンの代名詞だったテレビ業界では、特にその傾向は顕著で、どんなに高度で精密な薄型テレビを作り出しても瞬く間に韓国台湾などアジア勢の猛追を受ける。少しでも安いモノをと考える消費者にとって、ライバルがある程度の技術力を持てば、日本製品の優位性は一気に崩れるのだ。こうした中、いま一度日本国内工場 の存在意義を問う、「生き残りをかけた実験」が始まっている。東芝ではコストを度外視した超高機能テレビを作り技術力を極めようとする試みが佳境を迎えた。JVCケンウッドでは、自社生産にこだわらず、技術を中国メーカーに譲って製品を作らせ、そのライセンス料を企業収入にしていこうという動きも見られる。番組は、「日本は今後どうやって食べていくのか」、「日本人は何が得意なのか」と自問を繰り返す二つの電機メーカーの社運を賭けたプロジェクトに密着 し、メイド・イン・ジャパンの未来を見つめていく。」



番組によると、JVCケンウッドは、モノを作るだけでなく、魅力的なシステムをあみ出す知恵にこそ日本の活路があると思い至ったのです。堺屋氏はその考え方に賛同すると思います。 (more…)

Why IP Assignment Agreements Matter, Part 1

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Clients often ask their attorneys why they spend so much time arguing about seemingly trivial differences in contract wording.  Isn’t it just interchangeable generic boilerplate gobbledygook?

And attorneys often reply that slightly different wording in even basic legal agreements can yield radically different real world results.

Stanford University found that out the hard way when the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Stanford v. Roche dismissed its $200 million patent infringement lawsuit against Roche Molecular Systems because of sloppy wording in a Stanford researcher’s invention assignment agreement.

Patent rights initially belong to the inventor, which is why all companies engaged in research and development should require employees and independent contractors to sign written agreements assigning all intellectual property rights in their work product immediately upon invention.

Stanford’s agreement stated, “I agree to assign or confirm in writing to Stanford and/or Sponsors that right, title and interest in … such inventions as required by Contracts or Grants.”  Which looks okay at first glance, but if you read it again, you realize that the employee has only agreed to assign ownership of the invention at some time in the future.

Mark Holodniy, one of the researchers on a Stanford project to use polymerase chain reactions (PCR) to measure HIV concentration in blood plasma, signed that agreement.  Holodniy worked with researchers at biotech company Cetus to learn more about PCR, but Cetus required him to sign a non-disclosure agreement that said he, “will assign and do[es] hereby assign to CETUS, [his] right, title and interest in each of the ideas, inventions, and improvements” that he developed, “as a consequence of” his work at Cetus.

Since Holodniy had not yet actually assigned his rights to Stanford via the invention assignment agreement, he wound up assigning them to Cetus via the non-disclosure agreement, which was worded in the present tense.

The PCR hit the fan when Stanford sued Roche (which had acquired Cetus’ PCR business) for infringement of its PCR patents.  The court ruled that Roche could not infringe what it already owned, and threw out the lawsuit.

Takeaway: A lot of folks DIY basic contracts like employment agreements by cutting and pasting poorly drafted templates from the Internet.  A lot of other folks sign non-disclosure and similar basic agreements without a glance at the actual contents.  This case shows why neither is a good idea.

Update, 11/9/10: The Supreme Court has decided to grant certiorari and hear Stanford’s appeal of the decision. We will continue to follow this case of great importance to the university research community.