"Patent trolls" — companies that profit solely by legally enforcing patents they own — are beginning to target the biotech industry, and an August 31 ruling from a US federal court of appeals in Washington, DC, is making it easier for them to do, Nature News' Erika Check Hayden says. "The court upheld a lawsuit filed by Classen Immunotherapies of Baltimore, Md., against four biotechnology companies and a medical group, for infringing on a patent that covered the idea of trying to link infant vaccination with later immune disorders," she says. A district court had thrown the lawsuit out, saying the patent protected an abstract idea, but the appeals court disagreed, Hayden adds. Experts are troubled by the case, particularly because these patents include such basic and broad actions as reading published scientific literature and using it to create vaccination schedules. "Very broad patents have posed a problem in the technology field, where some firms amass vast portfolios of patents bought up from inventors and look for targets to sue," Hayden says. These so-called patent trolls don't produce anything or make anything — they simply profit by enforcing their patents in court. Studies have shown that companies like these have cost defendants more than $500 billion in the last 20 years, Hayden says. So far, software and technology companies have been the hardest hit, but trolls have begun to home in on biotech companies, she adds.
A Problem for Biotech
Sep 30, 2011