Harvard Research Scientist: Sharing Discoveries More Efficient, More Honorable Than Patenting Them

from the my-hero dept

Meet Jay Bradner, Harvard research scientist, who disovered a promising molecule that may represent a step forward in the fight against cancer and decided to put science before fortune, because he's a human being. Oh, and also because he suggests that going the patent route would be less efficient and less honorable.

Two years ago, after Jay Bradner made a remarkable breakthrough—the discovery of a molecule that, in mice, appeared to trick certain cancer cells into becoming normal cells—he did something unusual. Instead of huddling with lawyers to file for a patent on the molecule, Bradner simply gave his work away. Hoping to get the discovery into the hands of any scientist who could advance it, he published the structure of the compound (called JQ1) and mailed samples to labs around the world. The move, he says, felt like “the more efficient way to do science—and maybe the more honorable way.”

More efficient. More honorable. It's a small example of the potential destruction for both prongs of the pro-patent argument. If it makes science more efficient to not patent, there goes promoting the progress. If it's more honorable, there goes the moral argument. And, unlike some pharma companies, I'm not even going to make patents the key point here: Bradner's focus is on helping people. Do we get the same sense from the crowd patenting their drugs, their medical diagnostic techniques, and anything else they can get their hands on?

Now, lest you write this off as some minor discovery that Bradner made, this molecule would likely have made him a great deal of money.

The monopoly on developing the molecule that Bradner walked away from would likely have been worth a fortune (last year, the median value for U.S.-based biotech companies was $370 million). Now four companies are building on his discovery—which delights Bradner, who this year released four new molecules. “For years, drug discovery has been a dark art performed behind closed doors with the shades pulled,” he says. “I would be greatly satisfied if the example of this research contributed to a change in the culture of drug discovery.”

This puts Bradner firmly on my hero list. Here's hoping he succeeds in helping to change the biomedical culture.

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Comments on “Harvard Research Scientist: Sharing Discoveries More Efficient, More Honorable Than Patenting Them”

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32 Comments
out_of_the_blue says:

Laws are for the dishonorable.

Ya got me there, Timmy. However, you haven’t disposed of the moral argument just because this one fellow is magnaminous. The moral case is forever that Bradner can dispose of his invention any way that HE chooses, but that all others have no inherent right to profit (monetarily) from it. Besides that, “less honorable” to profit from it doesn’t make it DIS honorable to do so…

As to more efficient: remains to be seen. I can imagine circumstances in which the profit motive gets this developed more quickly…

[Let’s take as premise that orthographic spelling is honorable and promotes civilization. Yet you use these characters: “distruction”. — Were you going for “destruction” or “distraction”? Cause either might work. Or just going for logoplex?]

CarrotandStick (user link) says:

That said...

While Bradner’s actions are worthy of all of the high fives on the planet ever, there is an argument to be made for time-limited patents on private pharma research as an incentive. Timed patents allow the company to generate a return on investment before the research becomes public domain. Whether this method serves the betterment of our species and society more effectively than an open method is a long and complicated debate.
However, the above should in no way detract from Jay Bradner’s eligibility for a Nobel Prize in being GODDAMN AWESOME.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: That said...

“there is an argument to be made for time-limited patents on private pharma research as an incentive”

And this is the argument that the patent system was based on. That nobody would invest in the research and development necessary to create unless they could have a monopoly for a short period that they could use to recoup their investment and then make a profit.

However, as this and many other examples shows – there are lots of other motivations that may make the patent system entirely unnecessary. Remember, the patent system is a trade-off. The public trades the right to copy an invention for a short period to give inventors an incentive. If the inventors already have an incentive, isn’t it better for society to not give up their rights?

bob (profile) says:

Well, if only they gave away tuition....

Have you checked to see how expensive tuition is at Harvard? Have you looked at the tax loopholes that are given just to educational institutions like Harvard? Have you looked at the sizes of the grants given to Harvard?

It’s very easy to be magnanimous and give away a few ideas when you’re so filthy rich. Yet many others at the place patent things in order to get even richer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well, if only they gave away tuition....

Tuition is not for research…
In Europe we have a first to file. Guess what happens when he doesn’t patent it here?
As for economy, the “publicly funded research” patent is problematic in its own ways, by taking a patent screening and therefore economy devoted to research away from the admittedly huge grants. It is very few of the discoveries actually getting patented and being worth it to license is an even further obstacle.
As for being rich you should really look at your wording since rich university is not the same as rich researcher (though “rich” researcher does equate rich university to some extend).

Loki says:

It is pretty much an established fact (for anyone who really want to look at all the data) that the majority of American medicine and science these days has very little to do with either efficiency or morality. It’s all about maximizing profits, for the most part. That pharmaceutical companies, most especially, only care about treatment of illness or injuries, not finding actual cures.

staff says:

more dissembling by Masnick

“disovered a promising molecule that may represent a step forward”

The operative word is MAY. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way he still gets paid. Many inventors do not have that luxury. We need patents to help us get funded to continue our work to bring our discoveries to completion and to market. Without patents we can’t get funding.

Masnick and his monkeys have an unreported conflict of interest-
https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php?n=10&pg=1

They sell blog filler and “insights” to major corporations including MS, HP, IBM etc. who just happen to be some of the world?s most frequent patent suit defendants. Obviously, he has failed to report his conflicts as any reputable reporter would. But then Masnick and his monkeys are not reporters. They are hacks representing themselves as legitimate journalists receiving funding from huge corporate infringers. They cannot be trusted and have no credibility. All they know about patents is they don?t have any.

http://truereform.piausa.org/default.html#pt.

Vic Kley says:

Bradner seems a real mensch!

Yes Bradner seems a man sweet of heart indeed.

Yet not a word from Bradner about patents, no he does not seem to be anti-patent. My bet is if he heard that someone struggled to create a new thing with little or no pay he would agree that person should be paid for their work JUST AS JAY BRADNER was paid by Harvard to find his new molecules.

Only Masnick, his clients and his henchmen think inventors shouldn’t be compensated. Only Masnick would be low enough to use this good man’s good act as an argument to destroy the law that protects inventors from unlimited predation by the greedy and predatory.

By the way I also think it impressive that Harvard lets Jay dispose of this valuable technology at his discretion rather then insist on some portion of ownership (like most state Universities).

vbk says:

Re: Re: JTP=nada Bradner seems a real mensch!

Implying nothing at all. I said what I meant.

I think the patent law and system can be fixed to deal with the worst abuses from strong arm thieves like MS, and Apple, and from abusive patent owners like MS and Apple (just ask Samsung).

In the repair process the smallest entities can get the kind of fee structure and especially maintenance structure they need to do the thing they do best. Bringing to life completely new things can easily take ten to fifteen years and in todays environment after being forced to break a single patent app in 10 to 50 separate patents we can be talking about $50,000 to $100,000 in small entity maintenance fees. Now the choice is likely to break the bank in the small entity.

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