Patenting Dolly the Sheep: In Re Roslin

In 1996 Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell from Roslin Institute pushed what was once thought of as science fiction into the realm of reality: mammalian cloning. From a scientific perspective, Dolly is undoubtedly a hallmark biotechnological innovation. However, Dolly the sheep was not awarded patent protection. ­­

The patent system is a legal mechanism that exists to incentivize innovation by rewarding innovators, who endure research and development costs, with a temporary monopoly on their innovations. Since Dolly the sheep is a product of endured research and development costs, one might assume that Dolly would be considered as legally innovative and as such, rewarded with patent protection. The case In Re Roslin Institute refers to the patentability of Dolly.

With the development of mammalian cloning, Roslin Institute sought for a patent on both the method of cloning as well as Dolly the sheep. The patent examiner however rejected the patent on the grounds that 1) the claims did not cover patentable subject matter under section 101, and 2) the innovation at hand was anticipated and obvious by section 102 and 103. This case was then appealed to PTAB, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, which affirmed the patent examiner decision. The PTAB decision was then appealed to the Federal Circuit. In re Roslin was decided by the circuit court against Roslin Institute, affirming both the PTAB and patent examiner decisions. The institute was not granted the patent on Dolly; though from a scientific perspective Dolly is the result of research and ingenuity, from a legal perspective, Dolly is a patent ineligible clone. 

The circuit court reasoned that unlike Myriad Genetics, Roslin institute 
"did not create or alter any of the genetic informationbecause the cloned animal is genetically identical to one existing in nature. Therefore, 

"Dolly herself is an exact genetic replica of another sheep and does not possess 'markedly different characteristics from any [farm animals] found in nature... Dolly's genetic identity to her donor parent renders her unpatentable."

This case reveals an interesting conflict in the life sciences, one between what is perceived as scientifically innovative as opposed to what qualifies as legally innovative and awarded patent protection.


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  1. This was a very interesting article to read because almost everyone has heard of Dolly the sheep. It was also interesting to note that the scientific and legal perspectives differed. Although, scientifically Dolly was a novel sheep, legally she had nothing innovative about her since all her genes were not distinct from others found in nature. I'm surprised to hear that the method of mammalian cloning could not be patented. That must have been a hard break for Wilmut and Campbell after their years of research and hard work. Good choice to blog about!