Sunday, March 19, 2006

Thought-patents

Michael Crichton, of Jurassic Park fame, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about an idiotic patent whose case is now going to the Supreme Court. Briefly, the USPTO approved a patent claiming ownership over the correlation between homocysteine levels and vitamin B-12 deficiency. So far, it's been upheld in the lower courts.

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I have trouble believing that. (Which is not to say that I doubt it's true, just that I have trouble believing it anyway. Eesh.)
 
The patent in question is #4,940,658. Most of the patent is about a specific test, and I don't think that anyone claims this is unpatentable. The subject matter of the dispute is patent claim 13, a two step process:
13. A method for detecting a deficiency of cobalamin or folate in warm-blooded animals comprising the steps of:

assaying a body fluid for an elevated level of total homocysteine; and

correlating an elevated level of total homocysteine in said body fluid with a deficiency of cobalamin or folate.

The second step is in dispute. It effectively claims any use of a scientific discovery ("fact"). It is also more broadly written than the remainder of the claims, as the first step can be done by any method, not just their claimed novel method. Other than that, I'm not quite sure what it means: The "correlation" is left undefined. It is also discussed at Patently-O.
 
Hmm. I take B-12 to counteract unusually high homocysteine levels in my blood. Can someone champion my cause?
 
I don't currently read blogs. This is just to ask you to check your e-mail (your regular account, not Gmail.)
 
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