Gene Editing and Patent Rights: Prof M S Swaminathan
Chennai, February 27, 2017: After a prolonged debate the US Patent and Trade Mark Office has issued patents to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Broad Institute can now keep its patents using CRISPR-CAS9 in eukaryotic cells. The other claimant for this patent is Dr Jennifer Doudna at Berkley, California. There has been so much struggle between these two institutions for patent rights for the CRISPR technology since it’s potentially a very remunerative one. There is a detailed article on the CRISPR story in the Hindu of Feb 26, 2017. Obviously, patent rights will limit access to the technology only to those who can pay for it. This is where the initiative of the Government of Switzerland in establishing a Humanitarian Trust to purchase patents relevant to the needs of the poor and make available to them is a welcome one. Public good research was the rule until a few decades ago. In agriculture, if important findings are patented, the small farmer will not have access to them. Having accepted patenting as a way of life, the challenge now is developing methods to ensure that important discoveries benefit human kind as a whole whether in agriculture or health and medicine or industry. After all, if patenting had been prevalent when Gregor Mendel announced in 1865 the laws of genetics, no one can guess what would have happened to genetics and its humanitarian applications.
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.