The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said that in its opinionthe NIH cannot patent gene fragments.

National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healy told theSenate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the patent officeexamined whether the fragments were "novel, useful and non-obvious," but the PTO apparently concluded they meet none ofthese basic criteria for patenting.

Healy said that the NIH was prompted by the issue of"obviousness" to seek patents on roughly 2,700 partial genesequences obtained in its labs -- particularly those of J. CraigVenter, who has now left the National Institute of NeurologicalDiseases and Stroke to head the not-for-profit Institute ofGenomic Research in nearby Germantown, Md.

NIH officials claim they filed the applications as a way to"protect" the nucleotide sequences while the governmentdecides whether it will be possible to patent a full or partialgene with a known function if some of its sequences havealready been published. -- Jennifer Van Brunt

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