Monday, January 23, 2006

Patenting, Access to Research Materials and Therapies: A Commentary

An experienced and knowledgeable veteran of the intellectual property world has prepared a preliminary critique of the draft IP policies of the California stem cell agency.

The commentary comes at our request from Terry Feuerborn, who was executive director of the Office of Technology Transfer within the Office of the President of the University of California from 1994 to 2000. He also was recipient of the 2000 Bayh-Dole Award from the Association of University Technology Managers.

As we noted in our previous item on the draft policies, the devil is in the details. Feurborn touches on some of those type of problems. Here is the full text of his comments.

"In general, the draft IP policy is headed in the right direction. There are rough edges, of course, but the overall thrust of the document is reasonable given the politics involved. Here are some features that could benefit from additional review:

"The introductory paragraph of Part II says that the IP terms and conditions will be adopted as a set of regulations with the force and effect of law. Given the very complex world of research, patenting, and licensing, and the many surprises that occur, will this provision become an inflexible strait-jacket? At the very least, there should be some provision for making exceptions when unusual circumstances are encountered.

"Grantees are required to submit different kinds of reports to CIRM. The wording in some places can be interpreted to suggest that information be included that would be highly confidential in nature--such as enabling invention information. Is this intended or just an oversight? It is assumed that reports submitted to CIRM will become publicly available. In addition, there is a requirement that research "data" be made available. Others should talk about the overall wisdom of this requirement. With respect to data related to human subjects, however, this would be objectionable for a host of compelling reasons.

"In some places, grantees are required to monitor the performance of licensees in ways that are likely to exceed what grantees are actually capable of doing without extraordinary resources. It is hard enough for licensors to monitor the extent to which licensees are paying royalties in a proper manner.

"The draft policy requires that research materials be made available to all requesters at no cost except for the recovery of expenses. This could be very troubling for grantees if the research materials are exotic in nature or are truly difficult to produce. It is not a matter of cost in all cases. It may be a matter of time and effort on the part of the most senior research personnel that could better be spent on research rather than responding to requests from all over the world. In addition, the request is to be satisfied within 60 days. Will that be technically possible in all cases? Since this will, according to the draft, be a legal requirement, what will be the consequences if it is impossible to meet a 60-day deadline?

"Under the requirements for licensing of CIRM-funded inventions, licensees must have 'plans for access to resultant therapies for Medi-Cal and uninsured California patient populations.' This plan is to be in place before a license can be granted. This may be an impossible task in some cases. For early stage technology, particularly, the nature of the resulting commercial product may not be known until years of investment and development have passed. Is it possible to have a meaningful plan when a license is issued in that context? How will start-up companies deal with this requirement since both their future products and their future resources will be unknown?

"The requirements for sharing royalty income with the State of California seem to be reasonable, given the wording of Proposition 71, but it would be more fair to grantees if the costs of patenting all CIRM-funded inventions could be deducted before the sharing provisions went into effect. A new formula may be required, but a policy of this nature would encourage the filing of more patent applications--thus helping to ensure that all promising technology developments would be protected by patents.

"The march-in rights are perhaps the most troubling aspect of the draft policy. It is one thing for the Federal government to impose such provisions in the Bayh-Dole Act, it may be quite another thing for CIRM to have such authority. In the case of CIRM, who will decide that a "grantee...or licensee has not made responsible efforts in a reasonable time....", or that they have not met "requirements for public use," or that "health and safety needs" have not been reasonably satisfied. How will decisions be made about such matters? What provisions are made for appeal? Can outside parties ask CIRM to exercise its march-in rights because the outside party is unhappy in some way? To what extent will uncertainties introduced by this provision discourage potential licensees, given the hundreds of millions of dollars required to develop new medical drugs and devices?

"The questions raised here are only some that need to be addressed."

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