Patents for New Technologies If someone had asked me 25 years ago what my goals in my audiology career were, obtaining drug patents would not have been at the top of the list. During my 12 years of clinical work, however, I became increasingly concerned about patients with irreversible ototoxic and noise-induced hearing loss ... Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   June 01, 2001
Patents for New Technologies
Author Notes
  • Kathleen C.M. Campbell, is a professor and director of audiology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. She can be reached by email at kcampbell@siumed.edu.
    Kathleen C.M. Campbell, is a professor and director of audiology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. She can be reached by email at kcampbell@siumed.edu.×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / Healthcare Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   June 01, 2001
Patents for New Technologies
The ASHA Leader, June 2001, Vol. 6, 6-11. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.06122001.6
The ASHA Leader, June 2001, Vol. 6, 6-11. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.06122001.6
If someone had asked me 25 years ago what my goals in my audiology career were, obtaining drug patents would not have been at the top of the list. During my 12 years of clinical work, however, I became increasingly concerned about patients with irreversible ototoxic and noise-induced hearing loss (see box below). I had to learn about patents because I found that without them, the drug which I developed would probably never reach patients.
Some professionals mistakenly believe that patents inhibit research and availability of drugs or devices. In fact, no company will spend the millions of dollars it usually costs to take a drug or device from the laboratory to the clinic unless they can protect their investment. Most scientists lack the independent funding and expertise to take a drug or device through the regulatory approval process, through clinical trials, and to market. Research grants may help, but usually they cannot take the drug or device to market.
Patenting new technology discovered in universities and teaching hospitals is increasing. Patent protection gives the developer a period of time - currently 20 years from the date of filing - to recover development costs before generics can enter the market. Therefore, patenting can facilitate the availability to the public of new and useful technologies. Patents can benefit the researcher by financially supporting their work and/or personal income. Financial considerations can vary widely by institution.
The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) reports annually on invention disclosures, patent applications filed, patents issued, and licensing activities of 190 institutions in the United States and Canada.
The AUTM Web site states that universities transfer technologies to:
  • facilitate the commercialization of research results for the public good

  • reward, retain, and recruit faculty

  • induce closer ties to industry

  • generate income and promote economic growth

A patent application should be filed before any publications reach the public. If you publish a paper prior to filing a patent application, the publication may be used against you. In the United States, you have one year to file the patent application. Most of the rest of the world requires “absolute novelty” and will not allow you to patent an invention if it is publicly disclosed before filing the patent application. A typical biomedical patent will take three years or more to process.
The elements of a patent application are essentially the same as a good scientific publication: abstract, background, materials and methods, conclusions, and “claims.” There is no hypothesis; your invention must be proven to work or it’s not patentable. The patent application adds a new dimension that can best be written by a trained patent attorney. The claims come last and are a precise description of exactly what the inventor is patenting. The claims are what the courts examine when infringement is in question. All the elements of the invention are examined in light of world literature, to which it is assumed the inventor has access. Once the application is filed, you cannot add new information to it to clarify a point without starting over. There is no peer review process that is as thorough as this examination process.
Patenting is not easy; it takes time and money. Nonetheless, I encourage audiologists and speech-language-pathologists to consider patenting their new technologies because patented products are much more likely to be developed for the patients who need it.
If you think you may have a new invention that would be useful and have a market that will support recovery of development costs, I recommend you take steps to protect it and patent it. Most major universities and many medical centers have a technology transfer office that can assist you. You may have an obligation under your employment contract and under certain grants, including NIH and NSF grants, to disclose new inventions. If your employer accepts responsibility for the invention, the employer will likely pay all expenses and may share revenue with the inventors. If your employer does not accept responsibility for the patent, they should release the invention to you, the inventor.
To learn more about the patent process, visit the AUTM Web site and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Web site at www.uspto.gov for links to primers on patents.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
June 2001
Volume 6, Issue 12