WASHINGTON -- The Biotechnology Patent Protection Act,sponsored by Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., was passedunanimously in the Senate last week after earlier receivingunanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would extend patent protection to processes that mightotherwise be defined as "obvious" and therefore unpatentable.European and Japanese laws already provide such protection.

"Thursday's actions by the Senate will help the United Statesmaintain its leadership role in the development ofbiotechnology products, " said Carl Feldbaum, president of theBiotechnology Industry Organization(BIO). "The fact that it waspassed so early in the first session of the 103rd Congresssuggests that it will be enacted this Congress," he added.

However, the House version of the bill has not even beenreported out of the House Subcommittee on IntellectualProperty and Judiciary Administration of the House JudiciaryCommittee, meaning that months could pass before the fullHouse votes on it.

Last year the bill passed the Senate in April, but was defeatedin the House during the final days of the 102nd Congress.

Despite broad support for the bill in the biotechnologycommunity, several patent lawyers who requested anonymitysuggested that passing patent laws that pertain to a specificindustry set a potentially dangerous precedent because whatCongress giveth, Congress can taketh away.

For example, one patent lawyer told BioWorld that such aprecedent might ease the passage of the likes of legislation thatSen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., introduced last year, which wouldhave placed a moratorium on transgenic animal patents.

Although similar precedents already exist in other industrieswithout causing problems, biotechnology, unfortunately, hasbeen placed in the spotlight by the fears its powers engenderin some members of the public, the lawyer told BioWorld.

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.