IP and Open Source Technology | Letter to Representatives
Zinc finger nucleases are an interesting case study in intellectual property rights, and as they become more widely used in clinical trials, they may set the precedent for the application of synthetic biology to our everyday lives. It is therefore important that our elected representatives be knowledgeable about both the scientific and economic consequences of the current state of affairs. We accordingly sent a letter (see below) containing some suggestions for improving the balance between intellectual property and open source technology to our senators and members on the Committee for Science, Space, and Technology.
- John Kerry
- Scott Brown
NY Representative for the Committee for Science, Space, and Technology
- Paul Tonko
MD Representatives for the Committee for Science, Space, and Technology
- Donna Edwards
- John Sarbanes
To Whom it May Concern,
On behalf of the Harvard International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) research team, we wish to inform you of a serious concern in the scientific community regarding the balance between open source technology and intellectual property rights. Patent law has traditionally encouraged open development and protection of rights. However a special case of monopolization has arisen in the field of synthetic biology where a single company, Sangamo Biothechnology Inc. has collected a sizable patent portfolio over zinc finger nucleases, one of the leading potential future gene therapy technologies. Our concern is for the collective well-being of researchers and beneficiaries of medical breakthroughs in synthetic biology.
Though Sangamo has legally acquired all of its patents, the effect of their monopoly has consequences beyond the average patent holder. For example, the cost of purchasing just one zinc finger protein is prohibitively high for the average researcher ($15,000), making it difficult for researchers to develop approaches towards treating genetic disease. Additionally, the broad nature of Sangamo’s patents leave little room for other researchers to study zinc finger proteins despite promising applications in gene therapy.
We strongly urge you to consider the case of synthetic biology and Sangamo when voting on patent-related legislation and ask you to please adopt a stance that considers balancing open source technology with intellectual property rights to help optimize benefits of scientific research both for society and for the researchers themselves. Thank you for your consideration.
The Harvard 2011 iGEM Team