The reporter gene patent

Once or twice a year, companies announce that they have received "broad" patents covering some aspect of technology. But all broad patents are not created equal. Some - like an antibody patent issued to Protein Design Labs Inc. (PDLI, Mountain View, Calif.) in 1996 - are clearly so watertight that others line up to obtain licenses. Others - like a gene therapy patent issued to the NIH in 1995 and exclusively licensed to Genetic Therapy Inc. (Gaithersburg, Md.) - have not excited the same degree of interest.

Only time will tell into which category a broad patent issued to Oncogene Science Inc. (ONCS, Uniondale, N.Y.) will fit. ONCS last week received U.S. Patent No. 5,665,543 covering the use of reporter genes to identify changes in transcription (gene expression) due to treatment of a cell with a chemical compound. Reporter genes are genes whose protein product is easy to detect, some examples being chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT), beta-galactosidase (LacZ), luciferase, and green fluorescent protein (GFP). When a reporter gene's expression is

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