Policy on intellectual property and patenting
The mission of the Wellcome Trust is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving health. This is the driving force behind all of our charitable funding activities, and the basis for our policy on the protection and use of intellectual property rights.
The aim of this policy is to:
- provide a clear statement for Wellcome-funded scientists on our position on the protection and use of intellectual property through patents
- to inform other Wellcome activities, particularly those relating to genomics.
In developing this policy, the Trust has considered a wide range of issues, in particular the role of intellectual property rights in creating the best conditions for research and in translating that research into tangible healthcare benefits. The Trust supports the appropriate protection and use of intellectual property where this will maximise healthcare benefits and enable biomedical research to flourish.
In order for research advances to qualify for intellectual property protection, the legal criteria for patent protection must be fulfilled. This means that, to be patentable, the results of research must describe an invention that is:
- novel, ie not described elsewhere before
- non-obvious, ie involving a step sufficiently inventive that most people working in that field could not have predicted it
- capable of industrial application, ie described in such a way that it can be made or used.
Patents, including those covering genes and their products, are no exception, and the Trust is supportive of these if there is sufficient information to indicate that the DNA sequences in question can be used to develop healthcare benefits. The Trust does not support the patenting of raw DNA sequences in the absence of such information. This is in line with EU law, which states that a gene sequence, whether partial or complete, is only patentable when it has been isolated and its function described.
The Trust is particularly concerned about patents and patent applications that are unreasonably broad and opportunistic, eg when there is limited functional data available to support those patent claims. The Trust may challenge such speculative patents if it believes that they are being applied for or used in ways that could be detrimental to research or limiting to the development of healthcare benefits.
As a charity the Trust is under an obligation to ensure that useful results from the research that it funds are applied for the public good. Innovations at the Wellcome Trust aims to bring together researchers, universities, industry and investors to help ensure that promising lines of research yield practical healthcare benefits. Given the importance of these issues and the potential health gains which should flow from genomics research, the Trust will continue to keep this policy under review.
The Wellcome Trust policy on intellectual property and patenting
- The mission of the Wellcome Trust is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health.
- The Trust supports the appropriate protection and use of intellectual property rights (IPR) to maximise healthcare benefit and to enable fundamental biomedical research to flourish.
- As such, the Trust supports the protection of research findings that meet the legal criteria for the filing of patents, that is, that findings should be novel, non-obvious (i.e. inventive) and capable of industrial application.
- The Trust believes that the basic DNA sequence of humans and other organisms should be placed in the public domain as soon as is practical, without any fees, patents, licences or limitations on use, giving free and equal access to all. Subject to this, the Trust is supportive of patents encompassing genes and their products when there is research data or information indicating that a particular DNA sequence has a utility such that the legal criteria for patenting can be met.
- All Trust-funded researchers and their host institutions are required to work with Technology Transfer at the Wellcome Trust in relation to IPR arising from this funding in accordance with the Trust's Grant Conditions.
- The Trust may challenge the inappropriate use of patents that it considers to be detrimental to scientific endeavour or to advances in healthcare.
The Trust has elaborated its expectations around patenting and licensing - see the approach of the Wellcome Trust in managing intellectual property to maximise public health benefit. This document outlines nine examples of what the Trust has considered to be the appropriate protection, management and exploitation of IP arising from a range of funded activities.
If you have questions about any of our policies, contact the policy team.