Parthasarathy discusses cracks in the patent system in The Conversation U.S.

April 6, 2016

On April 4th, The Conversation U.S. published Shobita Parthasarathy’s article entitled “CRISPR dispute raises bigger patent issues we’re not talking about.” In the article, Parthasarathy argues that the patent dispute over CRISPR, a potentially Nobel prize-winning gene-editing technique, demonstrates the urgent need to reform the federal patent system. She suggests that this disagreement is indicative of the patent system’s broader shortcomings, particularly in the biotech space.

“The modern patent system was built with individual entrepreneurs and discrete machines in mind. But university-based science is usually incremental and collaborative, driven by the hopes of tenure, promotion, grant-funding, and, if extremely lucky, a major scientific discovery,” says Parthasarathy. Scientists at both the Broad Institute at MIT and the University of California, Berkeley have applied to patent CRISPR, a technological innovation that has the potential to dramatically increase our capacity to alter plant, animal, and even human genetic codes.

Parthasarathy also points out that patent holders have enormous control over the development and use of technologies, particularly in the absence of other regulation. This is of particular concern in the CRISPR case because of the technology's potential for genetically altering humans for generations to come. She recommends creating “a more nuanced approach to patents in biotech, one that disentangles innovation and the public interest from profits.”

--Story by Alex Berger (MPP '17)

Shobita Parthasarathy is an associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She does research on governance of transformative science and technology, both in the United States and abroad. Her forthcoming book, Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2017), focuses on the politics of biotechnology patents over the past 40 years.