Our biotechnology patent attorneys have broad experience in intellectual property protection in this highly complex area. Our team can help you secure your inventions with patent protection, ensuring the commercial success of your innovation.
Our team of patent attorneys are industry leaders who protect and enforce intellectual property rights in the field of biotechnology. Our experience and technical expertise mean we are well-placed to handle the intellectual property portfolios of businesses ranging from university spin outs to multinational corporations.
Biotechnology innovation is a vital part of continuing technological advancement because it leads to the betterment of mankind. However, research can be complex, time consuming and expensive. We see our role as protecting the commercial interests of those who invest time and effort into innovating in this area.
Despite the research and work involved, patenting in biotechnology has seen very strong and sustained growth in Europe recently. Figures from the European Patent Office show an average growth in these applications of around 7% since 2017 with 6,801 biotechnology patent applications filed in 2019.
See more information on filing trends on the EPO’s website: EPO 2021 Annual Report
Compared to many other territories, the UK and Europe generally have an applicant-friendly approach to the patentability of life sciences technology, and biotechnology inventions in particular. Provided the usual requirements for patentability are met, the UK and Europe are attractive places for filing inventions.
However, there are specific considerations that apply to patenting biotechnology:
Are gene sequences patentable?
Nucleic acid sequences or partial sequences may be patented even if they previously occurred in nature. However, there must be a commercial purpose for the sequence and its industrial application must be disclosed in the patent application. An example could be a protein derived from a sequence – not just simply a newly isolated nucleic acid sequence for which no commercial purposes has been discovered.
Is it possible to patent cloning?
While it may be possible to obtain a patent for the laboratory techniques used to manipulate a genome, it is not possible to obtain patent protection for a process for the cloning of human beings. This is defined as any process, including techniques of embryo splitting, designed to create a human being with the same nuclear genetic information as another living or deceased human being.
Can gene therapy be patented?
Laboratory techniques used in gene therapy may be patentable. However, it is not possible to patent methods of treatment in the UK and Europe. It is also not possible to obtain a patent for processes for modifying the germ line genetic identity of human beings, i.e. a processes that results in the change of a hereditary trait which would be passed on to any offspring.
Is the use of human embryos patentable?
The use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes in the UK and Europe is excluded from patentability.
As set out in the case law of the European Patent Office (EPO) Board of Appeal, this exclusion applies to any patent:
“claims directed to products which – as described in the application – at the filing date could be prepared exclusively by a method which necessarily involved the destruction of the human embryos from which the said products are derived, even if the said method is not part of the claims." – Brustle v Greenpeace.
Can plants and animals be patented?
Plant or animal varieties and plants or animals exclusively obtained by means of an 'essentially biological process' are not patentable in the UK and Europe.
'Essential biological processes' include normal sexual reproduction, even if there was human intervention by means of crossing and selection to reach a desired offspring phenotype. However, if the plant or animal is not exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process (i.e. if it can be obtained by other means), and if it meets other patentable requirements, e.g. if the plant or animal originates from a new and inventive technical process or is characterised by a new and inventive technical intervention in the genome, then it may be patented. One example may be the use of a technique such a CRISPR-Cas which has been used to alter a heritable characteristic of the claimed plant or animal.
A further exclusion to the patentability is processes for modifying the genetic identity of animals which are likely to cause them suffering, without any substantial medical benefit to man or animal, as well as any animals resulting from such processes.
However, it is possible to obtain a separate, special form of protection for new plant varieties called Plant Variety Rights (also known as Plant Breeders Rights).
Read more information on the patenting of plants and biological processes here: Patenting Peppers: Who decides what is patentable at the EPO?
Our dedicated team of biotechnology patent attorneys has the technical knowledge to provide any biotechnology company with the best possible IP protection. We seek to provide an IP strategy that supports our clients' commercial interests and enables them to continue to grow and expand their business.
Together, our attorneys have over 50 years of experience advising clients in this sector, from the very earliest patent applications for gene sequences to navigating the present complex rules relating to patenting antibodies in Europe.
We have experience working with university researchers, start-ups and spin outs, through to large multinational companies. We are adept at tailoring our services to meet the commercial aims and budgetary requirements of our clients.
Our team in Edinburgh advise clients in the biotechnology research sector in Scotland which, along with the wider life science sector, is now responsible for £2.4 billion gross revenue for the Scottish economy.
Our IP attorneys in Scotland have a particular focus on biotechnology. They advise clients of all sizes in preparing, filing and prosecuting patent applications on an international scale, including in the USA and Europe. The team also has experience advising university spin-outs, start-up companies and entrepreneurs, particularly common in this research-heavy industry.
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