Another Example Of Patents Putting Lives At Risk

from the very-sad dept

This one's a bit old, but I finally got around to reading Joe Mullin's fascinating, but troubling, account which pits a Stanford professor and doctor against a French company, Advanced Biological Laboratories, that claims to own patents on (effectively) using computer data to help doctors make diagnostic decisions. If you want to see the specific patents, they are 6,188,988 and 6,081,786. At issue, is the fact that Dr. Bob Shafer has been working for years (actually, since before either patent was filed) on putting together HIVdb, an exceptionally useful database on HIV details that many researchers rely on to help figure out potential treatments to HIV. Except... of course, ABL claims that it infringes on those patents.

Since Dr. Shafer works for Stanford, ABL threatened Stanford, who brought in some lawyers who pointed out that the patents had very little chance of surviving any sort of review -- but Stanford, apparently anxious to avoid a long, drawn-out or costly lawsuit, agreed to settle the dispute, promising to put a warning note on HIVdb that using the system for commercial purposes might require a license from ABL. Shafer, who didn't know such a settlement was in the works, was quite upset to find out about it -- and refused to put the warning message on the site (eventually he put an edited version, hidden deep within the site, including his own opinion about how silly it was).

Shafer also has hired his own lawyer and is pushing forward to invalidate ABL's patents. He's also been learning more and more about how such patents are all too often used against their stated purpose, and how, rather than encouraging innovation, they're being used to stifle it and (more importantly) to put lives at risk. Shafer and his colleagues are reasonably horrified that Stanford gave in, noting that it only encourages such behavior, and enables ABL and others to pull the same sort of stunt against others.

Given that Shafer refused to live up to the terms of the deal that he had never agreed to in the first place, ABL moved forward and sued Shafer directly, and that case is now ongoing -- even as Shafer hopes to invalidate the patent through the Patent Office itself. The whole thing is yet another story of how patents are being used to stifle innovation -- and sometimes put lives at risk. It's tragic that we've been seeing so many such stories lately. Update: It's been pointed out that some of you might want to look at the great website Shafer has put together, at if you want to learn more.

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  1. identicon
    Wingman, 18 Jun 2009 @ 10:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Heh, "he" who? I looked through all of Wingman's statements and couldn't see where he attributed that statement to anyone in particular, so you're obviously lying claiming he did.

    Hey Bob,

    Yeah, I'd been careful not to attribute certain statements to any particular individual, that's why I asked him to point it out (knowing he couldn't). And of course he fell for it. I did that for a couple of reasons. First, to see how many different identities would pop up in defense (smoke them out). Second, just to see if he'd keep lying. Of course he did (presuming it's the same individual).

    And I think you could be right about "Jason's" motivations too.

    Now I see he's now gone back to his Anonymous Coward moniker and come out with another pack of whoppers, including a bunch of made up credentials. Well, I think most of what needed to said about real engineers and this wannabe has been said at this point. Now it's time to leave him all alone because I'm pretty sure hardly anybody else is reading any of this anymore.

    So long Bob.
    Bye bye to you too, "Jason".

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