When doing the initial research for our synthetic alternative to palm oil components, we quickly came across lots of information regarding the current palm oil industry. It soon became apparent that the economies of some countries, for example Indonesia and Malaysia, depend almost entirely upon the current methods of palm oil production. Therefore we compiled a detailed impact analysis report for synthetic palm oil, which can be found by clicking on the button to the right.

To Patent, Or Not To Patent, That Is The Question

In an attempt to minimise the negative impact the commercialisation of our project would have on the economies of developing countries largely dependent on the palm oil industry, our ideas and constructs could be patented. Patenting a product derived through synthetic biology is not a new concept, in fact companies such as Givaudan have already patented microbial routes to valuable commodities such as vanillin, for example[1]

Cons of patenting:

  • It could lead to the privatisation of synthetic life forms[2], as well as furthering the privatisation of products and processes found within nature[3]

  • Patenting could hinder progress in research and development, as the legislature around the patent may be very restrictive

  • Following on from above, patents can be very broad in scope. Some people feel that genomic patents should only be issued if the standard criteria of patents are clearly apparent: patents must demonstrate novelty, usefulness and non-obviousness. This would potentially alleviate some of the restriction suggested above[2]

Pros of patenting:

  • Patenting leads to a protection of knowledge, which encourages researchers to publish and distribute their findings openly

  • The CINVESTAV-IPN-UNAM iGEM team 2012 alluded to the fact that licences could be written into a patent[4], which would still protect the inventor’s work but would also make the technology accessible to others

Therefore, our project could potentially be patented, and then licenced out to countries reliant on the palm oil industry either for a reduced rate, or free of charge.

[1] Bomgardner, M. M. (2012), “The Sweet Smell of Microbes”, Chemical & Engineering News. July 16th
[2] UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2008). Postnote: Synthetic Biology
[3] FotE US, CTA & ETC Group. The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology
[5] Photo © Antony Theobald