Academic biologists routinely work with genes without so much as a second thought. They focus their attention on determining the function of the gene and the protein it produces, not on whether the relevant DNA is patented or not. According to some universities and scholarly associations, a recent federal appeals court decision means that the entire scholarly research community, not just biologists, will be spending a lot more time with lawyers to determine whether their investigations violate someone's patent rights.
Universities have often labored under the assumption that using research tools and materials is a permissible practice: noncommercial uses fall under a research exemption that precludes liability for patent infringement. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), which hears appeals of patent cases, issued a ruling last year that defines this safe haven for researchers so narrowly that it becomes virtually useless. It reiterated that the exemption applies only "for amusement to satisfy idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry." But noncommercial, academic research, the court decided, serves to further the "legitimate business objectives" of the university, so patented equipment and materials do not warrant an exemption.
This article was originally published with the title Sign Here.