“It just doesn’t ring true to me. We knew that all that protein coding bits of genes do is produce protein. They have to have instructions to turn them on and off. Those sequences lie well outside the protein coding sequences, sometimes thousands-tens of thousands of spaces away–people knew about those. So in principle we knew very well that the junk DNA was not junk.”
John Sulston’s view is widely shared by geneticists. To be awarded the protection of a patent, an invention must pass three vital tests. It must be novel at the time the application is filed, it must not have been obvious to other skilled researchers, and it must have a clear utility. Professor Joe Sambrook of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne, is the author of one of the standard textbooks on human DNA. He says the idea of uses stretches of junk DNA to track genes was well established by the mid 80s.
“It’s a bit of a puzzle for me to see how you could claim that some of the things in the patent are novel, A lot of them I think are not and have been well established and almost mundane by the time the patent was filed.”
Graeme Suthers is one of Australia’s leading clinical geneticists.
“My perspective is, non-coding DNA has been around for millions of years. The techniques for analyzing it were developed over the last fifty years. The usefulness of non-coding DNA in biomedical research has been recognized for decades.”
John Mattick of Queensland University is Australia’s foremost expert on junk DNA. He believes Simons’ broad method patent should never have been granted.
“It’s very problematic of whether it’s inventive, it’s just as problematic in terms of its scope. Even if we accepted it as inventive, there’s an imbalance between the level of invention and the level of impact that this thing has, so that’s another set of issues.”
Doctor Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a prominent Belgium geneticist, had never heard of the Simons’ patents until we described them to him.
“There’s a company here in Australia which owns the suite of patents of the entire non-coding genome of every creature.” “[laughing]That’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous, I don’t understand patent offices–who gave a patent on this if this is right?[still laughing]“