The Work

May 6, 2009 4:53 PM

The Patent Fight of His Life

Posted by Ed Shanahan

IPLBCover By Joe Mullin from the April/May 2009 Issue of IP Law & Business

Bob Shafer is one unhappy doctor.

An expert in bioinformatics--the science of using computers to enhance medical treatment and decision making--Shafer has learned more in the past year about how the country’s patent system works than most medical researchers will ever know, and certainly more than he ever wanted to know. His newfound knowledge has come at a steep personal cost: Waging a battle to wipe out a pair of patents that he believes threaten to destroy his life’s work, Shafer has racked up more than $100,000 in legal bills while putting himself at odds with Stanford University, where he is an associate professor of medicine and pathology.

The cause Shafer is staking his career, reputation, and retirement nest egg on is the HIV Drug Resistance Database, a highly regarded free resource that he developed, Stanford hosts, and doctors and scientists around the world rely on. Shafer says he's fighting for more than the survival of his creation--he’s fighting for the future of bioinformatics research itself. It's something he and many colleagues believe is imperiled by a European company’s move to assert a patent claim against Stanford over the database. "They are saying that if you want to use computers to help doctors make medical decisions, you have to give us money," Shafer says of the company, Advanced Biological Laboratories, S.A. "They could go after users. It's a slippery slope."

Read the full story here.

Joe Mullin is a staff reporter with IP Law & Business. He can be reached at [email protected].

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The information in the article is limited, but almost certainly the claims of the patent are not as broad as the article implies. The claims define the scope of an invention and I doubt that the claims of the patent Dr. Shafer is concerned about cover all uses of computers to help make medical decisions. If the claims are that broad they are clearly invalid.

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