University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law Professor Christopher Holman writes in the most recent issue of Nature Technology that while DNA sequencing technology has spawned a myriad of patent-related lawsuits, “aggressive patent acquisition and enforcement practices” show no signs of abating and may not necessarily be hindering the development of next-generation DNA sequencing and analysis technologies.
In his article “Advances in DNA sequencing lead to patent disputes,” Holman discusses the early laboratory breakthroughs that led to the current race to develop an individual genome sequencing technology that will cost less than $1,000. He describes in some detail how companies and inventors have kept the courts busy with infringement claims and counterclaims, as well as disputes over who was the first to invent a claimed technology. This has occurred since patents were developed or acquired from the earliest days of sequencing involving dyes and apparatuses through automated sequencing instruments and reagents, then to more recent ion semiconductor sequencing and pyrosequencing technologies.
According to Holman, no human gene patent has ever, to his knowledge, “been asserted in the context of multiplex genetic testing or genome sequencing” because asserted patents appear to be directed not toward genes themselves, “but rather toward methods, apparatuses and reagents used in DNA sequencing and genetic testing.” In his view, patents “seem to have had both positive and negative effects on advances in DNA sequencing.” While the earliest discoveries were not patented, the crucial protection that patents afford makes the greater investment and risk in the field worthwhile. He concludes, “[F]or better or worse, patents are likely to continue playing an important part in the advance of DNA sequencing technology.” See Nature Biotechnology, November 2012.