Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Can A Company Patent the Medical Application of Decision Support Systems?

Science magazine had a story in the February 27, 2009 issue about a dispute relating to the HIV Drug Resistance Data Base.
At the center of the dispute are U.S. patents owned by Advanced Biological Laboratories (ABL) S.A. in Luxembourg that involve computer methods to guide treatment of patients with HIV infection and other diseases. In early 2007, ABL notified Stanford that its popular Internet-accessible HIV Drug Resistance Database (HIVdb) possibly infringed two of the company's patents.
This seems to be one of the patents.

And this seems to be another.

I thought patents were to be awarded to inventions based that were innovative, non-obvious, and reduced to practice. I checked on the Wayback Machine, and the HIV Drug Resistance Data Base was online a couple of years before the patents seem to have been submitted.

The patents linked above were awarded for the application of expert systems to HIV diagnosis, which seems an obvious application of an approach that had been around for decades.

What is meant be reduction to practice in this kind of an application? I would think it would take more than a mock-up, but a system that could really provide useful information. Was such a system ever provided to the examiner?

Some 50 years ago I worked on the demonstration device for a patent application for an automatic price reader for grocery stores. The machine would not have withstood the rigors of real clerks in real stores, but it did recognize the prices in sample price tags. It really demonstrated that such a device could be built. For an expert system, the demonstration that a useful device could be built would be quite hard.

Am I missing something?

In any case, it certainly seems that someone should help to defend a medically useful website such as the HIV Data Base, and make the firms claiming patent infringement prove their claim!

No comments: