By: Partner Craig Smith
Published in the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology
Biotechnology companies rely on patents to protect their most valuable inventions. Patent protection helps support billions of dollars in research and development of life-saving drugs and treatments. Protecting biotechnology inventions has become more difficult in the last few years, however, because legal trends have created uncertainty regarding what subject matter is eligible for patent protection. Specifically, courts have narrowed the scope of what is patentable and have increasingly invalidated patents because they claim abstract ideas or laws of nature. As biotechnology companies wait for more clarity on the scope of patentable subject matter, they face a dilemma of whether to patent their inventions or keep them secret. Keeping inventions secret offers some benefits to companies, but may not be sufficient to protect the significant investment made in research and development. The biotechnology industry will continue to grapple with this dilemma until the courts, the Patent Office or new legislation clarifies the boundaries of what subject matter is patentable.