demic investigators to abandon lines of work they otherwise might pursue or to modify research protocols or by raising costs or causing delays?
To probe the adverse impact of patents on research, the survey questionnaire asked respondents to “… think about the most recent case where you seriously considered initiating a major research project and decided not to pursue it at that time” and to rank responses on a 1 (“not at all important”) to 5 (“very important”) scale. Table 4-3 shows the percentage of academic respondents in each research category and in the random sample as a whole scoring a given reason more than a “3,” or more than moderately important.19
The reasons for project abandonment were, in order of frequency, lack of funding, conflict with other priorities, a judgment that the project was not feasible, not scientifically important, or not that interesting, and the perception that the field was too crowded with competing investigators. Technology access issues—“unreasonable” terms for obtaining research inputs (10 percent) or too many patents covering needed research inputs (3 percent)—are less frequently cited as important factors. Terms of access weigh more heavily on investigators involved in work on drugs and therapies than on basic researchers (21 percent versus 9 percent), on researchers working on NF-kB than on those involved with other pathways (19 percent versus 7 to 9 percent), on those involved in genomics than on those in proteomics, and on those involved in industry-funded research or other commercial activity than on those who are not.
It is important to follow the experience of the academic respondents, although few in number (32), who concluded that they needed a research input covered by someone else’s patents. Twenty-four contacted the patent owner to obtain permission to using the patented input; five proceeded without contacting the owner; and one modified a project to avoid the input. None abandoned the work as a consequence of either delay or inability to receive permission. Of those who sought permission, seven reported not receiving it within one month. A higher proportion of those intending to use the patented technology as a drug experienced delays or difficulty than those intending to use it as a research tool. Of those seeking permission, only one encountered a demand for licensing fees, in the range of $1 to $100.
Overall, the number of projects abandoned or delayed as a result of technology access difficulties is extremely small, as is the number of occasions in which investigators revise their protocols to avoid intellectual property issues or pay high costs to obtain one. Thus, it appears that for the time being, access to patents or information inputs into biomedical research rarely imposes a significant burden for academic biomedical researchers.
Without an index allowing comparison across an individual’s answers to all questions, the percentages in Table 4-3 do not reflect relative importance. That is, the data do not correct for the fact that some individuals may answer that everything is a 3 or higher.