Sunday, August 15, 2010

Collaboration Brings Progress on Alzheimer’s

My research involves how patents make it difficult to share their knowledge which makes it harder to create derivative inventions. Suppose everyone controlled a single puzzle piece. Putting together that puzzle would involve negotiations for each piece and even if you were to get 90% of what you need to assemble it, the puzzle won't be complete and it'll show. Knowing that danger, you don't bother trying to assemble the pieces.

Patents are puzzle pieces and gathered together the right ones can make something truly amazing. But getting them together is hard, especially in the biotech world where so many crucial pieces are spread among so many people/firms. So I was thrilled when I read this in the NYT:
The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement as ambitious as its goal: not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world.

No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.

Now, the effort is bearing fruit with a wealth of recent scientific papers on the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s using methods like PET scans and tests of spinal fluid. More than 100 studies are under way to test drugs that might slow or stop the disease.
While patent pools--firms making an agreement to share each others' patents--is not new, the notion of not allowing people to patent the work in the first place is. One of the unintended consequences of patent pools is that firms patent things just so they can join the pool. This method avoids that problem, though the fact that if focuses on basic research is surely an important part of its to-date success.

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