A New York scientist’s seven-year effort to win a patent on a laboratory-conceived creature that is part human and part animal ended in failure Friday, closing a historic and somewhat ghoulish chapter in US intellectual property law.
The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected the claim, saying the hybrid — designed for use in medical research but not yet created — would be too closely related to a human to be patentable.
Paradoxically, the rejection was a victory of sorts for the inventor, Stuart Newman of New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. An opponent of patents on living things, he had no intention of making the creatures. He said his goal was to set a legal precedent that would keep others from profiting from similar “inventions.”
But in an age in which science is increasingly melding human and animal components for research — already the government has allowed many patents on “humanized” animals, including a mouse with a human immune system — the decision leaves a crucial question unanswered: At what point is something too human to patent?
Officials said it was not so difficult to make the call this time because Newman’s technique could easily have created something that was much more person than not. But newer methods are allowing scientists to fine-tune those percentages, putting the patent office in an awkward position of being the federal arbiter of what is human.