Center for Bioethics Papers

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

February 2004


Unlike all other countries in the world, the United States awards patents to the first to invent, not to the first to file an application for a patent. In cases where two or more inventors submit patent applications claiming the same invention, an interference may be declared. Interference is the process by which the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO; Washington, DC, USA) determines which of the applicants was the first to invent and diligently reduce the invention to practice. More than half of these are resolved in favor of the inventor who was the first-to-file, raising questions about whether this unique system is worth retaining. Interferences are relatively rare. For the period 1998-2002, an average of four interferences were declared for every 10,000 patent applications filed. Data we have gathered suggest that interference proceedings in gene discovery and biotechnology are much more prevalent than other areas of technology. The resulting legal fees are costing the biotechnology industry millions of dollars each year.


Postprint version. Published in Nature Biotechnology, Volume 22, Issue 2, February 2004, pages 153-154.
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Date Posted: 21 May 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.