Sunday, July 10, 2016

3-D Printable Organs: Patentable If Called A "Device"

An alternative to incubating organs in a pig or sheep is just to run them on a 3-D printer.  Already such parts as skin, bone, blood vessels and even ears have been printed. Who knows? Maybe Van Gogh would have been less depressed if he could've later swung by Kinko’s to run off a replacement ear...

The technology mimics 3-D printing of more ordinary objects: Layer after layer of material is deposited to shape and form the organ, except that stem cells may be used together with collagen to give it the desired tissue look and feel.  Organs don’t just snap into place like other replacement parts; it’s slightly more complicated. In order to achieve “controlled cellular differentiation” so as to then easily snap into place, some incubation outside the human body may be necessary.

But can you patent the organs you create from a 3-D printer? Patent lawyers are struggling with this. The law says that you can’t patent what occurs in nature. Perfectly replicating a human organ would be a problem since it likely could not be patented. On a related note, you also can’t patent a human embryo or fetus. It’s not just prohibited under patent law for strong public policy reasons. It’s creepy.

So the key to obtaining a patent for a human organ is to make sure you’re not successful in completely replicating a perfectly natural and healthy organ. Make sure, for example, it has different cellular density or uses at least one artificial material. And don’t go and sabotage your chances in your patent application by plainly disclosing that you’ve invented a “human liver” or kidney for that matter. Call it an “implantable biologic device” with specified utilitarian applications. Be shrewd but sensible about it.