October 27, 2005

Hagelin Lectures on Biotech Patent Law

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The Cornell Center for Life Science Enterprise, along with the Syracuse Technology Garden, took part in a videoconference hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. about the use of patented technology in medical research yesterday. The presentation was part of the Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship Seminar Series sponsored by the Lally School of Management and Technology at RPI.

The speaker was Ted Hagelin, the director of the New York State Science and Technology Law Center at Syracuse Law School. He explained that patents give an inventor the exclusive right to make, sell and distribute a created item for 20 years. In exchange for the patent, the creator of this invention must give enough information about it so it can be made by others after the patent expires. This is a system that both protects the inventor and increases public knowledge.

However, there are some things that must be used and seen to be understood, and many inventions in the biotechnology field fit in this category. As a result there is an exemption to the Hatch-Waxman Act, which regulates the use of patent-protected products, to allow the use of patented items in different areas of medical research. However, these exemptions only apply if the product meets certain requirements. For example, the item in question must be an actual product, rather than a research tool. Also, if the product being developed has the same purpose as the patented item, it cannot be released until after the patent expires.

According to Hagelin, at some universities researchers use patented technology without licenses “every day of the week.” There is an unspoken agreement between these institutions that they will all use each other’s patents and no one university will take legal action.

However, this arrangement might come to an end because of industrial pressure. If an item is licensed for a fee to a company, they have the right to demand that the university enforces its patent. Hagelin said that RPI did not engage in this free-exchange practice, but did not mention whether or not Cornell researchers did.

There were a few problems during the lecture. First, the title for the lecture, “What Every Researcher Should Know About the New Law on Use of Patented Technology in Research,” was too long to fit on a single PowerPoint slide. Later, the sound feed from RPI stopped.

Those watching the lecture in other locations had to hold up signs to the video feed to get the attention of those in Troy.

However, these minor difficulties did not mar the overall experience for many. Edwin Cheung grad, a masters student in engineering thought it was a “good presentation.”

Students that will one day be developing new products and applying for patents in the future, “we always want to learn something,” he said.

Although this lecture series his been going on for years, this is the first year they have been available on campus.

“We wanted to save ourselves from having to drive to Troy,” said Susi Varvayanis, director of applied resources for the Cornell Center for Life Science Enterprise. These videoconferences are open to the general public as well as all Cornell students and professors, and will continue on a monthly basis for the rest of the semester and into the spring.

Archived article by Laura Rice
Sun Contributor