I read my first (and hopefully last) patent application today, entitled “Clustering Phylogenetic Variation Patterns.” Although the title of the application sounds more like a late 1950s era manuscript on numerical taxonomy than it does a modern (
According to this interesting article on the filing by Elizabeth Pennisi (published in last week’s Science), David Hillis’ first response to the news that Microsoft had filed a patent pertaining to evolutionary inference from phylogenetic trees was that it must be a joke akin to “The Onion article about Microsoft attempting to patent 1’s and 0’s.”
The patent filing, by Stuart Ozer, claims invention of a variety of techniques already in wide use by systematists and evolutionary biologists – and (so far as I could tell) none of these inventions are original in quality. The whole patent filing can be read (at one’s own risk) in its entirety here, however I have also chosen a few select passages for reproduction, below.
Among the claims of invention in this patent filing, the author purports to originate:
“a method of generating biomolecular clustering patterns”
“mapping at least a portion of the plurality of sequences to an evolutionary tree, the evolutionary tree including a plurality of nodes corresponding to the sequences in a hierarchical arrangement”
“counting evolutionary events in each of the identified plurality of positions at each identified node in the evolutionary tree”
“pruning the evolutionary tree”
“identifying the identified node as a leaf node based on the species count of the corresponding child nodes” for example if “the species count for each of the corresponding child nodes is less than a predetermined number”
“mapping evolutionary events”
“counting evolutionary events further includes: generating an event rate . . . wherein identifying related positions includes identifying related positions based on the event rate”
Without knowing the details of these “new” methods, the claims of invention are hard to evaluate. However, the language of the patent is so broad that it seems possible that if this ridiculous patent is ever approved, we might find that in doing what systematists have done for years, we will be infringing on a patent held by Microsoft Corporation!
Perhaps most nefarious about the filing is the following claim (pointed out by Roberto Keller commenting on the Myrmecos blog):
“Efficient and accurate identification of related groups of monomers of biomolecular sequences is important in achieving biotechnological advances in research and development. However, there is currently no efficient method for determining groupings of monomers in a biomolecular sequence, or among related interacting sequences.”
The author of the patent filing is apparently unaware of the last 50 or so years of research in this area (and should perhaps familiarize himself with a wonderfully interesting chapter on the subject in Felsenstein’s book).