How `Intellectual Property' Works at a Private Medical Research Facility

Article excerpt

When we think of property, we generally think of land, buildings, automobiles, antiques, diamonds, horses and the like -- things we can "own." "Intellectual" property is quite different. The concept is more elusive because it is not tangible in the strictest sense of the word.

Intellectual property is a product of the human mind. In science, it is an idea or observation that has prompted experimentation until it is proven to provide either the technology or a specific panacea to benefit society or medicine.

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, like other private, nonprofit biomedical research institutes, has a mission to perform competitive biomedical research, to push forward our fund of knowledge into the basic mechanisms of cell biology, genetics, immunology and biochemistry. Our fundamental goal is new knowledge, and we are part of a continuum of people engaged in biomedical research.

OMRF scientists "write up" the results of their experiments and then publish their work in nationally and internationally recognized scientific journals. They then apply for funding in an arena that includes competitors like Stanford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and others. OMRF compares favorably on both counts.

The goal of the biomedical scientist is almost never to write a patent, gain a licensing position, or start a company. His or her goal is simply to conduct scientific research -- to observe, test and discover. At OMRF, however, we have a technology transfer department, headed by Bill Aven, that works with the scientists to determine if we are in a position to apply for patents and licenses. This requires a different skill set, a different knowledge of the scientific field, and a firm grasp of the law, the marketplace, and the science.

Once we determine that we can patent an idea or a technology, the process of filing a patent begins. Someone has to translate the discovery into a document that is filed with the U. …