Developments in Synthetic Biology Are Altering the IP Imperatives of Biotechnology

Christopher M. Holman · 17 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 2

Abstract

While the accomplishments of the biotechnology industry have been substantial, recent technological advances promise to dramatically increase the power and utility of the discipline over the coming years. The term “synthetic biology” has been coined to describe the application of these powerful new tools to the engineering of synthetic genetic sequences and organisms. In essence, synthetic biology represents the next iteration in the ongoing evolution of biotechnology, and hopes run high that in time, the fruits of synthetic biology will dwarf the past successes of conventional biotechnology. There is, however, some concern that the current patent-centric approach to Intellectual Property (IP), which has for years been the norm in biotechnology, is ill-suited for the needs of synthetic biologists and synthetic biology companies. This Article addresses these concerns and considers potential modifications to the IP system that might render it better suited to promote progress in synthetic biology. The Article begins with an overview of conventional biotechnology, including a discussion of the critical role IP has played in the growth and development of the conventional biotechnology industry. Next it describes the ongoing synthetic biology revolution, as illustrated by specific examples of various types of synthetic biology companies and user-innovators. The Article then explores the emerging IP imperatives of synthetic biology, highlighting numerous deficiencies under the current IP regime. It concludes with suggestions for adapting IP to the imperatives of synthetic biology, including a proposal to enlist copyright in the protection of synthetic biology innovations.