George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Policy Paper: A Landmark Case in the Protection of Intellectual Property That Led to the Creation of an Entire Industry

Written by Robert Appel on .


Forty years ago, a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding patent protection for genetically engineered organisms ushered in the entire biotechnology industry. A policy paper by School of Business Associate Professor of Global Strategy and Entrepreneurship Mahesh Joshi, Ph.D., and colleagues reviewing the importance of the case has been published by George Mason University’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property in the Antonin Scalia Law School.

Forty Years Since Diamond v. Chakrabarty: Legal Underpinnings and its Impact on the Biotechnology Industry and Society—written by Joshi and coauthors Matthew Jordan, a junior at Yale University, Neil Davey, a first-year law student at Harvard Law School, and Raj Davé, founder and president of Davé Law Group, LLC—explores the legal proceedings in securing patent protections after Ananda Chakrabarty—a genetic engineer at General Electric—filed a patent application for genetically modified bacteria capable of breaking down crude oil in 1972.

That patent was initially rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the grounds that living things were not patentable. Ultimately, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court’s opinion that “the fact that microorganisms are alive is a distinction without legal significance” for purposes of the patent law.

The authors noted that the immense impact of the decision by the Supreme Court in Chakrabarty v. Diamond is particularly significant in the current effort by the biotech industry to create vaccines for Coronavirus-19.