RNAi patent jolt
- Charlie Schmidt - Nature Biotechnology
- The US Patent and Trademark Office has issued a patent for detection of RNA-mediated gene silencing to Sir David Baulcombe, University of Cambridge, and Andrew Hamilton, University of Glasgow, over a decade after their gene silencing findings in plants were first reported (Science 286, 950–952, 1999). “The new patent has implications beyond plants,” says Jan Chojecki, CEO of Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL), of Norwich, the tech transfer company that owns the patents. “Anyone in the US profiling short RNAs and their impact on gene expression in mammalian systems is likely to be interested. We think it will create quite a stir.” The new patent recognizes Baulcombe and Hamilton's discovery that when genes are silenced complementary RNA strands of 20–30 bp accumulate—a finding that also proved critical to establishing short RNAs as a tool to manipulate gene expression. The initial patent for this technology, issued in 2004, was limited to plants, but the new patent broadens out to mammals. PBL expects to grant licenses to industry but will not enforce rights in academia, provided researchers use licensed detection kits. James McNamara, who directs the Office of Technology Management, University of Massachusetts Medical School, points out that Craig Mello and Andrew Fire, now at Stanford University, developed comparable RNA detection methods. “But if a company practices methods that might infringe on Baulcombe and Hamilton, they might take a license on it for reasonable terms,” he says.