McGill Neurology will no longer patent researchers' findings, instead everything will be open access

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Sounds like a PR move. Does McGill Neurology already hold lots of patents? Have any of these patents been involved in litigation before? Are they an important source of revenue, either through licensing or being sold outright? (If they aren’t, then ending the pursuit of patents would also probably free up a substantial portion of the budget.)

I suppose it might serve to cut some red tape, in the sense that it will be easier to disseminate information without worrying about whether the disclosure will subsequently invalidate an attempt to patent a related technology – but then, we don’t know if that’s really a problem either. All the article really says is “patents can get in the way of these sorts of collaborations”.

Sounds like a great idea until some private company takes some of the research, turns it into a billion dollar business, and McGill gets none of it. It’s a nice little transfer of wealth from tax payers to business.

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You can’t patent something if there’s “prior art” for it.

Admittedly, it’d be fought in court, but with the research openly accessible and clearly dated, it should be a slam dunk to get any corporate patents for the same research dismissed.

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I never said anybody would try to patent McGill’s work, just that somebody might use it as a key part of their business and not have to pay for that technology.

Plus, don’t be so confident about the patent angle. A patent might be granted and if it is, it could be used to get people to pay. Patent trolls generally demand a little bit less money than it would take to fight the issue in court. Remember the guys that claimed to have patented podcasting? They made millions of dollars before they were shut down.

McGill should patent everything, but then offer free licenses.

Isn’t that the idea?

How would this stop the scenario where someone uses it as a key part of their business and doesn’t have to pay for that technology?

Companies are extremely reluctant to spend the inconceivable amounts of money involved in transforming a promising discovery into a candidate treatment if they don’t have the protection that someone else isn’t doing the same work - protection offered by their licensing the right to work on that discovery. Patents rarely make a lot of money for a university, but contrary to the impression Cory is giving they can increase the likelihood of a university’s research being transformed into something usable in the clinic.

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Must be nice, sitting on a $20m endowment, being able to give stuff away like that!

Meanwhile back in the real world of NIH supported biomedical research in academia, the standard grant has been stuck at $250k for over 15 years, despite the biomedical research price index (the real cost of doing research) rising at double digits. With a single grant, and having to support 70% of my own salary, and benefits costs going through the roof, I have enough for 1 post-doc’ and a technician, and the rest goes on animal costs and supplies. 70c a day per mouse cage really adds up when you have over 100 cages on the go. 10 years ago I had a 5 person lab on the same money. Throw some typical open access publication fees of $1500-3000 into the mix, and it becomes apparent that for those of us “scraping by” on NIH grants, there will be no free-for-all in the name of open science. We do what we have to do to survive, and if that means patenting shit to make money, then so be it.

Don’t get me wrong, we still have a decent publicly funded science system in the US, but it really hasn’t kept up with inflation (particularly personnel costs). This kind of PR exercise is the preserve of the wealthiest institutions only.

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Forgot to mention also the harm this can do… Pharma companies will not touch anything that doesn’t have intellectual property coverage. That could crate real problems if a good drug candidate is discovered and reported on by these folks. Sure, they’re giving it away, but no pharma company is going to spend the $billions required to bring such a drug through clinical trials and into the market place, without the guaranteee that their product will be protected against generic competitors.

Ergo, without concomitant FDA reform, this initiative is not going to help at all. It will just end up with a bunch of drugs being reported on in the literature, with no hope of ever being developed into actual medical treatments. Nobody will be able to patent these molecules, because “Prior Art” and all that.

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Right. And it shouldn’t be, of course. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that scientists at public institutions (like universities, etc) spend much more time writing grant proposals as opposed to doing research. Part of the problem has been the constant cutting of funds for public institutions. Corporations have stepped in to fill the gap, but that means scientists are doing less research and more grant writing.

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