Highlights from Drake Law School Summer Institute in Intellectual Property, Biotech, and Ag SciencesMay 21, 2008

The Drake University Law School Summer Institute in Intellectual Property, Biotechnology, and Agricultural Sciences was held in Johnston, Iowa on May 19-20. The event, sponsored by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, addressed diverse topics including the impact of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on biotechnology patents, the patent landscape of the nascent biofuel industry, ethical considerations in life science patents, and international considerations for drafting biotechnology patent applications. The conference brought together an international collection of researchers, attorneys, executives, academics, and policy makers. Click below for a brief synopsis of selected presentations as well as contact information for the next Summer Institute.Professor Daniel R. Cahoy from the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University gave a presentation titled "Patent Ownership and Consolidation in Essential Biofuel Technology." The presentation addressed the future intellectual property landscape in the growing biofuel industry. A key concern regarding the future of the technology is the avoidance of both patent thickets and strong control by a small oligopoly. The current landscape reveals patent ownership by a large number of smaller organizations, which raises concerns about industry stagnation due to patent thickets. Based on analysis of a similar market, herbicide resistant plants, Prof. Cahoy's research indicates that consolidation is likely in industries where there are a limited number of avenues to patent protection, significant barriers to research and development, synergistic technologies encouraging merger, and a long term market for the technology. Based on the features of the biofuel market, Prof. Cahoy predicts that consolidation through buyouts will resolve the patent thicket problem while preventing the formation of a strong oligopoly.Andrew Bentham, Partner at J.A. Kemp and Co. (UK), gave a presentation titled "The European Perspectives on Plant Biotechnology." The presentation addressed the European Patent Convention's exclusion of utility patent protection for plants and methods for producing plants. European courts have narrowly construed the language such that claiming plant varieties is prohibited, however, claiming broadly at the taxonomic level is permissible. Although this opens a window to utility patent protection for some plant patents, the breadth of the claim brings some new issues regarding enablement of the claim scope. Additionally, prohibitions on essentially biological processes complicate the ability to patent plant breeding and selection mechanisms. Based on this review of European Patent Law, Mr. Bentham suggested that the strongest case for patentability involved situations with a single trait or locus that can be clearly defined in some way that produces reproducible results.The Summer Institute is an annual event of the Drake University Law School Intellectual Property Law Center. If you are interested in attending next year's event, please contact the Director, Prof. Peter K. Yu, who can be reached via e-mail or at the following address:Peter K. Yu Intellectual Property Law Center Drake University Law School 2507 University Avenue Des Moines, IA 50311

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