February 25, 2019 — The Wall Street Journal headline reads: GE to Sell Its Biotech Business for $21 Billion. I now know for certain that we’re in a topsy-turvy world.
Back in 1980 it was lawyers for the General Electric company that persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm, in the legendary decision of Diamond v. Chakrabarty, that even a living organism could be the subject of a United States patent. Numerous commentators have observed that this green-light signal from the legal system paved the way for billions of dollars of investment in biotechnology research and development, spurring the fruition of this nascent field. These include David Kappos, who, as the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said so in a speech to the international convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in 2011 (click here for BIOtechNOW’s July 5, 2011 article about his speech).
But since then, the Court has eroded the effect of that formerly auspicious doctrine. For example, in 2013, the Ass’n of Molecular Pathologists v. Myriad Genetics case held that even a unique and non-obvious DNA molecular probe wouldn’t be patentable if the sequence of its nucleotides is the same as those of a portion of a naturally occurring chromosome.
Probably it’s mere coincidence that GE is now divesting its biotech arm.
But as Kurt Vonnegut would remind us …. So it goes.