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US Human-Genome Sequence-Patent Filings Eclipse Rest of World, Says NSF

NEW YORK, Sept. 17 - US-based companies and academic centers filed more international patent-family applications for human-genome sequences between 1980 and 1999 than the 15 countries of the European Union combined, according to a National Science Foundation report.


Since 1980, US labs in academia and the private sector filed 5,610 international patent-family applications, reads the report, called the International Patenting of Human DNA Sequences. By comparison, 12 of the 15 EU countries combined filed 989 such applications. (Greece, Portugal, and Luxembourg, the three remaining EU nations, were not listed.)


An additional 1,211 international patent-family applications were filed by 18 non-EU nations, the European Patent Office, and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.


The report's author, Lawrence Rausch, who works at the NSF's division of science resources statistics, sought to determine "the relative strength of America's inventive activity" in DNA sequences. He based the study on international patent families, which cover inventions--in this case a patented genome sequence--for which IP protection has been sought in more than one country.


This metric "makes international comparisons more accurate by mitigating the bias introduced by national patent systems that encourage large numbers of patent applications," Rausch writes.


The report, written in August but released last week, used information that Mogee Research & Analysis Associates compiled from human-genome sequence data found in GENESEQ and the Derwent World Patents Index.


"I think part of the reason for the US turnout is the research dollars that flow to labs that perform this kind of research, and I think the Human Genome Project ... has also contributed to" these findings, Rausch said in a recent interview.


Asked if any of his findings stuck out, Rausch said: "I think I was surprised that the US was so very active in all this. Even though the US is a large country with a large population, when you do compare it to a similarly sized European Union, I think it's an achievement."


Rausch's report shows that between 1980 and 1984 the US filed for 132 international patent families. That same period saw Japan file 47; the UK file 30; and Germany and France filing six and five, respectively.


Over the ensuing five years, those same five countries filed 423, 131, 47, 20, and 22 patent families, respectively. The five years ended 1999 saw those numbers swell across the board to 3,760, 396, 287, 152, and 69, respectively.


Though corporations "dominate human DNA patenting overall," the type of organization "actively" patenting human DNA sequences also varies among countries, the report found. For example, though the US and the UK have "a large number" of universities seeking patents for human-genome sequences, "far more corporations than universities" are active in these countries.


The private sector also "dominates" this kind of patenting in France, Israel, and Japan. In Australia, Canada, and China, in contrast, "many more" universities than corporations apply for human DNA patent, according to the report.


"As researchers move from mapping sequences to decoding their functions ... their work will likely transform the way many diseases are treated," Rausch writes. "And the companies and countries that own key patents in this technology area will benefit most from these developments."


Click here to read the full report.

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