"Synthetic Biology"

March 1, 2007Duke Law News

March 1, 2007

Duke Law School will host a workshop on intellectual property rights in synthetic biology on March 2 and 3. Sponsored by Professors Arti Rai and James Boyle, in conjunction with the Duke Center for Public Genomics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the workshop will involve leading synthetic biology scientists as well as legal academics, lawyers, business people, and economists.

In their paper “Synthetic Biology: Caught between Property Rights, the Public Domain, and the Commons,” (forthcoming in PLoS Biology), Rai and Boyle define synthetic biology as “the attempt to construct life starting at the genetic level.” Synthetic biologists treat biology as a true engineering discipline, they write. “In the same way that electrical engineers rely on standard capacitors and resistors, or computer programmers rely on molecular blocks of code, synthetic biologists wish to create an array of modular biological parts that can be readily synthesized and mixed together in different combinations.” Among the “fruits” of synthetic biology to which Rai and Boyle point : bacteria that can be programmed to take photographs and cells that can count the number of times they divide. Among its results: the possibility of inexpensive, unlimited drugs for neglected diseases like malaria.

“Synthetic biology presents an important case study of the challenges that new technology can pose for intellectual property. Because synthetic biology operates at the intersection of biology and information technology, many of the issues regarding patent thickets and intellectual property, particularly in standard-setting, that have come up in information technology may come up in synthetic biology as well. At the same time, patents – and royalties - may be essential to attracting venture capital.” These questions will be discussed during the workshop, as will the possible application of “open source” models to synthetic biology research.

On Friday morning, March 2, three sessions of the workshop are open to the Duke University and broader community. These sessions, offering an overview of science, a framing of the intellectual property issues and a presentation of the “patent landscape” will begin in room 4048 of Duke Law School at 9:00 a.m. The Law School is located at the corner of Towerview Road and Science Drive on Duke’s West Campus. Parking is available at the Bryan Center.

For more information, contact Frances Presma at (919) 613-7248 or presma@law.duke.edu.
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