Emptying the flotsam of the editorial mind

Every now and then it helps for me to simply off-load a few random thoughts that have occurred to me over the past few months. This is one of those times.

Chris Anderson
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Every now and then it helps for me to sim­ply offload a few random thoughts that have occurred to me over the past few months. This is one of those times.
It goes without saying, I guess, that those involved in the genomics and pro­teomics business are often walking a very thin line between wild success and financial upheaval.
That's pretty apparent with just a quick thumbing through this month's issue. Most prominent, perhaps, is the report showing Benitec has closed its California-based U.S. operation (see E080614) and is now in full retreat back to its home base in Australia.
While the company waits for its potential RNAi-based HIV therapeutic to take hold, or even find a focused application, it also had to tackle some internal problems, most notably manufacturing difficulties it experienced early this year that put production of that therapy on hold.
Those problems have since been corrected, but when a company faces literally months of downtime and is playing a waiting game for significant revenue from its most likely money-maker, that's not a recipe for market success.
No doubt Benitec is now firmly on the ropes and it will be interesting to see how the com­pany works it way out of this jam or whether it will give up the ghost and be snapped up by a larger more monied business concern.
Also in this issue is a story about Sigma-Aldrich's lawsuit against Open BioSystems surrounding the distribution of its Lentiviral shRNAmir Library (see E080613). Part of the news here is how this legal action has caught The RNAi Consortium in the middle of the dispute, since it is the originator of the lentiviruses used by both companies to bring these products to market.
But lurking in the shadows here is a much larger issue and one that has folks in the industry whispering and wondering what may become of the landscape for public-private partnerships in the coming years. For there is real concern—not just regarding this particular case—that private companies have recently become more aggressive in staking out their patent territory in areas where much of the original IP was created either using public money or via a public-private partnership.
Further, one person's know-how seems to be increasingly seen by corporations as IP that needs to be protected. Never mind that in many cases, the technology has passed through so many different labs and hands and changed a bit here and some more on the next stop that it can be difficult to backwards trace whose tech­nology it is or whether anyone "owns" it.
"You have this situation where you're doing research and you don't really know who owns what you're doing anymore," said John Quackenbush, a genetic-data researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in a Boston Globe article about the Sigma-Aldrich lawsuit.
While this situation can certainly lead to a very tangled and complex IP environment, that may not be the worst of the situation. You see, if aggressive for-profit companies begin to prevail in some of these legal challenges, there is the very real possibility that research dollars from private entities pledged to public, not-for-profit research institutions could become harder and harder to find.
After all, who wants to donate money or enter into collaborations when the IP landscape is so unclear? And who is policing this? Well, no one really, but some entity, somewhere needs to step up.
For it would be a shame to have many of the world's great research institutions need­ing to spend a good chunk of their money on attorney's fees, just to enter into a scientific collaboration.

Chris Anderson

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