Report of the Task Force on Intellectual Property

This task force was charged with clarifying the situation on the impact of intellectual property issues on the release of data in structural genomics.

The exact circumstances in which sequences and structures can be patented are not yet well established. For example, when is a discovery 'new' enough to satisfy the requirements for a 'product' patent, or when is an application sufficiently non-trivial for a 'use' patent. Additionally, there is a wide variation in patent law around the world. There is no grace period in Europe for patents, meaning that once data are released, only a use patent is possible. In the US, and most other parts of the world, this is not the case, and between 6 months and a year can elapse during which a patent may be applied for. However, there are other scientific and business reasons to patent as early as possible, which minimize the impact of these differences. For example, it has been the experience of the genome sequencing community that there are 'watcher' companies who look at the latest data released, and quickly take out 'use' patents.

The international structural genomics community must develop data release rules independent of these uncertainties and inconsistencies. The main conclusion from the Hinxton meeting was that the interests of intellectual protection should be balanced with the imperative of immediate data release. A first version of such a policy was adopted at Airlie, and is described in the 'Agreement' document.

At the Airlie meeting, Dr. Strauss discussed many of the IP issues in greater detail. His lecture notes are attached and form the bulk of this report.