Stanford bioengineering professor Drew Endy, PhD, and four other scientists testified before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce at a hearing yesterday on recent discoveries in synthetic biology and the implications of those advancements for health and energy.
During the hearing, Endy discussed the significance, from a policy and a governance perspective, of the recent announcement by researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute that it is possible to construct a replicating cell from a synthesized genome. In his closing remarks (.pdf), Endy touched on how advances in synthetic biology are challenging the existing application of intellectual property rights in biotechnology:
Stated plainly, as our capacity to engineer biology increases, so does the number and combinations of uses of genetic functions that will be deployed. Such novel uses and combinations are typically protected via patents. However, via synthetic biology, we are already experiencing situations in which the cost and time required to use a patent-based approach does not match the scale or pace of work. This emerging situation is likely to be exacerbated via an increased capacity to “compile” genetic material from sequences distributed via computer networks, in a fashion that should be familiar to anyone who has used or uses Napster, the Pirate Bay, or iTunes. Our capacity to explore and craft any improved ownership, sharing, and innovation frameworks underlying the future of biotechnology will have direct impacts on the development, application, and ultimate utility and acceptance of synthetic biology.
You can see Endy's testimony on the hearing page.