The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports:
--that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a patent dispute between Mayo Clinic and a firm called Prometheus Laboratories. The case has implications for potentially reining in the overly broad patents now being issued for biological and medical discoveries, especially related to the genome.
The article is unfortunately not very specific about the diagnostic tests that are at the root of the patent dispute. We learn from another press source--
--that the test involves correcting the dose of thiopurine administered for various autoimmune disorders, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. Mayo previously used the Prometheus test to find out how much thiopurine stayed in each patient's bloodstream, until its own scientists came up with what they say is a better test, and then Prometheus sued Mayo to prevent their test from reaching the market. The lower court ruled for Mayo, a higher court reversed, and now the case is before the Supremes.
Mayo's case, which is backed by the Feds, is that the Prometheus patent is too broad, and would patent the idea of doing the sort of test Mayo has actually developed, even though Prometheus never invented that specific test. As I wrote in HOOKED, the patent system, which is an interference with the free market designed to trade off monopoly privileges for promoting innovation, is actually today squelching innovation because the patent office is willing to patent most anything, whether it has been actually taken to a realistic stage of development or not. The Supreme Court was told in argument that if they found for Prometheus, they would basically be saying that a manufacturer of a bad product could use the patent system to prevent a competitor from marketing a better product--hardly the sort of promotion of innovation the patent system as designed for.
I previously blogged about patents: http://brodyhooked.blogspot.com/search?q=patents
--in relation to pay-for-delay to prevent generic drugs from cutting into brand-name profits. Anything the Supremes might do to reduce overly broad patents, and to stop industry from "patenting the sun" in Jonas Salk's famous phrase, would be welcome.