Racing for academic glory and patents: Lessons from CRISPR

17 November 2017   Vol 358, Issue 6365

Policy Forum
Racing for academic glory and patents: Lessons from CRISPR
By Arti K. Rai, Robert Cook-Deegan
Science17 Nov 2017 : 874-876 Restricted Access
Overly broad patents must be reined in
The much-publicized dispute over patent rights to CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology highlights tensions that have been percolating for almost four decades, since the U.S. Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 invoked patents as a mechanism for promoting commercialization of federally funded research. With the encouragement provided by Bayh-Dole, academic scientists and their research institutions now race in dual competitive domains: the quest for glory in academic research and in the patent sphere. Yet, a robust economic literature (1, 2) argues that races are often socially wasteful; the racing parties expend duplicative resources, in terms of both the research itself and the legal fees spent attempting to acquire patents, all in the pursuit of what may be a modest acceleration of invention. For CRISPR, and future races involving broadly useful technologies for which it may set a precedent, the relationship between these competitive domains needs to be parsed carefully. On the basis of legal maneuvers thus far, it appears that the litigants will try for broad rights; public benefit will depend on courts reining them in and, when broad patents slip through, on updating Bayh-Dole’s pro-commercialization safeguards with underused features of the Act.