Beagles win first round in fight for reprieve from patenting

05/20/04

Patent office will now consider the merit of University's claims on sickened dogs

WASHINGTON -- In a landmark decision, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has agreed to reexamine a patent on beagle dogs following a legal challenge filed in February by two non-profit organizations, the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and the PatentWatch Project of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA). In the challenge, the groups urged the Patent Office to cancel Patent # 6,444,872, which covers live beagle dogs and was issued to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System (UT) in Austin, Texas. The dogs claimed in the patent are intended for use in experiments.

"It is fundamentally illegitimate and flawed to consider any animal to be patentable subject matter," said AAVS President Sue Leary, "and defined as a machine, an article of manufacture, or an inventor's composition of matter. The horrible treatment of these patented dogs is a disgraceful illustration of the convergence of bad science and bad policy."

Specifically, numbers 1 through 4 of the patent's claims cover "a canine model [of fungal lung infection]," and the remaining claims pertain to the various methods used to induce a fatal lung infection in the dogs. The patent also indicated applying the methods to pigs, sheep, monkeys, or chimpanzees and, like many other patents on animals, now appears to be exclusively licensed to a private company.

"Dogs clearly are not patentable machines or articles of manufacture," says Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of ICTA. "This decision, hopefully, is a first step in our government recognizing this and rescinding patents on animals."

The AAVS/PatentWatch challenge represented the first time public interest organizations had requested the reexamination of a patent on an animal. New rules under which this reexamination was granted will permit AAVS and PatentWatch to appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Since the Patent and Trademark Office first issued a patent on an animal in 1987, it has granted nearly 500 patents on animals.

A nationwide poll of U.S. adults commissioned by AAVS earlier this year found that two out of three people consider it unethical to issue patents on animals as if they were human inventions. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed were not even aware that governments and corporations are obtaining patents on animals.

The public has also responded to the AAVS/PatentWatch initiative by writing to the Patent Office and the President of the University of Texas. Students at UT Austin held a campus rally, collected over 300 signed letters, and delivered them to their University's President urging him to reclaim the patent. In addition, AAVS constituents sent over 2,100 petitions to the USPTO Director in support of the AAVS/PatentWatch Request.

The decision of the USPTO to reexamine the patent, dated May 19, 2004, is the first step required to overturn the UT's patent claim on beagles. After the University responds within 60 days, AAVS and PatentWatch will have the opportunity to comment, setting up the case for a final decision by the Examiner at the USPTO. AAVS and PatentWatch will be vigorous in ensuring that the patent is ultimately cancelled.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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