develop a complex system of technology in an orderly and efficient manner, as proposed by the prospect development theory presented by Richard Nelson in chapter 3. In the case of LI-COR, patent protection of sequencing systems enabled it to negotiate the cross-licenses needed to develop its product fully. In both cases, private support has driven the development and dissemination of a research tool. The public and private sectors seem to have gained equally.
Research tools in drug discovery present an example of the difficulties in protecting intellectual property when technologies involve complex biological systems that lack discrete borders. The information is often broad and refers to general categories of matter, such as a class of neural receptors, rather than finite entities, such as the human genome, or specific techniques, such as PCR or recombinant DNA techniques. Controversies have emerged over broad patents, which some see as stifling research on and development of useful drugs and others see as critical to the translation of research knowledge into useful products. The focus of the discussion in the workshop was the tension between the dependence of small biotechnology companies on patents and the difficulties created when research on complex biological systems is restricted by a thicket of patents on individual components of the systems.
When research on a complex system—for example, receptor biology or immunology—requires obtaining multiple licenses on individual components of the system, the potential for paying substantial royalty fees on any useful application derived from that product can be daunting. "Royalty stacking" can swamp the development costs of some therapies to the point where development is not economically feasible. That is a problem particularly in gene therapy, where the most promising advances now are related to rare genetic diseases that present small markets.
Bennett Shapiro, vice-president for worldwide basic research at Merck Research Laboratories, argued that the central issue is not about patenting, but about access, about encouraging the progress of biomedical research. Problems can arise when access to related components of biological systems is blocked. For example, schizophrenia is often treated with compounds that suppress dopaminergic neurotransmission. Many such compounds, for example haloperidol, act nonspecificially and suppress the entire family of dopamine receptors. People who take those compounds for schizophrenia often develop other disorders some of which resemble Parkinson's disease, another disease involving the dopamine system. A rational approach to discovery of improved schizophrenia drugs would be to target specific dopamine receptors. But if different companies hold patents