Mining Patents for Information
Mining Patents for Information
The US patent system is premised on a fundamental exchange, or as some might say, a grand bargain. In exchange for fully disclosing their invention to the public, the inventor gains the exclusionary right to that invention for a limited period.
The Three Goals of this Exchange
This exchange achieves three objectives. First, the inventor is incentivized to fully disclose their invention. If the inventor had opted instead to keep their invention a trade secret, they would run the risk of someone else independently inventing the same advancement. However, by obtaining a patent, and thereby obtaining the right to exclude others from practicing the invention, the risk of another inventor making such an independent discovery is eliminated.
Second, the public benefits from the exchange by gaining the full disclosure of the invention and all the supporting information contained within the patent. Additionally, at the completion of the inventor’s exclusionary right, the invention becomes part of the public domain.
Third, the public is encouraged to “design around” or create workarounds of the patented invention. Even though the exclusionary period begins immediately upon grant of the patent, the public has full access to the invention’s disclosure from the moment the patent application is published. This means that the public can study the disclosure and all of its supporting information in order to distinguish between that part of the disclosure which is patented and that part which is not.
Leveraging the Information Contained in a Patent
This means that the public can use the information contained in the patent as a basis to design a system or improvement which does not fall within the scope of the patent.
At UNH, we recently exploited this ability to enable a research team to broaden its targets. Kevin Schuster, Karyn Cahill, and Rick Cote have been researching the use of phosphodiesterase (“PDE”) inhibitors as a tool to combat nematode infestation. The research team had genomic data for two nematode species: C. elegans and Meloidogyne hapla. C. elegans is a model laboratory organism and is not parasitic. Meloidogyne species are found throughout the world and are collectively known as Root Knot Nematode. These parasitic nematodes are responsible for root knot disease and cause about 5% of worldwide crop loss. C. elegans and Meloidogyne have substantial genetic similarity with respect to their PDE enzymes. Laboratory tests on C. elegans are showing positive correlation between PDE inhibitors and a decrease in nematode motility. This invention is patent pending.
In order to further expand the potential scope of the invention’s applicability, it was important to target an additional parasitic nematode to gain even further relevance to the agricultural industry. We chose to look at Heterodera glycines, otherwise known as Soybean Cyst Nematode, which is responsible for approximately $500 million worth of damage to U.S. soybean crops per year. The setback Kevin and his team faced was that they could not find a suitable Heterodera glycines genome sequence through any of the usual genomic databases.
The solution was found in U.S. Patent No. 8,067,671. This patent claims only one particular genetic sequence from Heterodera glycines, however, it discloses nearly the entire genome sequence of Soybean Cyst Nematode. Kevin was able to take the raw sequence data from U.S. Patent No. 8,067,671, and find potential PDE enzymes which share substantial homology to the PDE enzymes from C. elegans and Meloidogyne.
Conclusion and Caveat
Patents and published patent applications are a wealth of information waiting to be used and leveraged. Sometimes these documents are the only source of information on a subject available. However, as part of the grand bargain, these are public documents as soon as they spring into existence. These public documents should be utilized by the academic community to the maximum degree.
Patents are often drafted in Patentese, a particularly tortured lexicon of Legalese. This can make it difficult for the uninitiated to interpret the claimed scope of the patented invention. If you are at all unsure whether the information you have gained is part of the claimed invention or simply supporting information, please see your UNHInnovation representative. If the invention was created independently of your work at UNH, you may seek out your own patent attorney for legal advice.
Image source: USDA, public domain