The US Patent and Trademark Office has always leaned in favor of the inventors when it comes to granting patents, but cases like this one prove that that may not be the best policy.
Hwang Woo-suk of South Korea claimed over a decade ago to have cloned embryonic stem cells, a breakthrough, that if genuine, would have far reaching benefits and consequences for the medical community. Because it was such a monumental claim, other scientists jumped in right away and began checking his research. In the end, it turned out that his research was entirely fabricated and that his results were falsely manipulated. Once other scientists tried to replicate his results but couldn’t, he was forced to admit what he had done.
Still, he applied for patents in over 20 countries, and actually succeeded in three. He holds a patent for his “discovery” in Australia, Canada, and now, the US.
On one hand, it’s wonderful for the community of inventors to be given the benefit of the doubt. We are a creative community, and an air of suspicion from the Patent Office would be enough to discourage many from sharing their ideas. At the same time, it seems like there should be some method in place for patent officials to look into these projects a little bit and make sure they are honest. This is a case of one unscrupulous person causing problems for the majority who are acting in good faith, and it’s frustrating for those of us who just want to bring great ideas to fruition.