Science  25 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5752, pp. 1259

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  1. Rein In Patents, Panel Urges

    1. Eli Kintisch

    It's relatively easy to claim ownership of biological information in the United States—perhaps too easy, says a National Academy of Sciences panel. “[F]uture discoveries in genomics and proteomics that would benefit the public health and wellbeing could be thwarted by an increasingly complex intellectual property regime,” the panel warned in a report released last week.

    The panel suggests that scientists limit their patent applications to “useful” proteins or nucleic acids. Basic scientists using patented material in their research—known as “experimental use”—should not be liable for patent infringement, said the panel, co-chaired by Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and attorney Roderick McKelvie of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. The group also wants to raise the so-called obviousness bar that patents on genomic or proteomic sequences must clear. And the report calls for better ways to share sequence and structure data internationally.

    Patent attorney Gerald Murphy of Birch, Stewart, Kolasch & Birch in Falls Church, Virginia, welcomes the call for closer scrutiny of applications on obviousness and more freedom for bench scientists. “Those are areas [of patent power] that should be weakened a bit,” he says.

  2. European Parliament Crafts New Rules on Chemicals

    1. Xavier Bosch

    After years of debate, the European Parliament last week approved a sweeping law to test most compounds used in commerce. The measure, as originally proposed, would have required countries in the European Union to test 30,000 common substances (Science, 7 November 2003, p. 969). But companies said it would cost too much. Parliament scaled back the rules last week, requiring safety tests for only about 10,000 of the most widely used substances over the next 11 years, starting with the most dangerous. But the law will require that all 30,000 chemicals flagged in the original draft be registered. And firms must replace hazardous chemicals with safe ones.

    The European Environmental Bureau said the rules should be tighter and that they “would hamper the identification of harmful chemicals such as hormone disrupters.” But a spokesperson with probusiness lobby Unice said the rules were “going in the right direction.”

  3. Weather Satellite Gap Looms

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    The United States could suffer a several-year hiatus in civilian weather data-gathering due to the slow development of an ambitious satellite. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System was supposed to be an economical replacement for two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and military systems. The first of six satellites was scheduled to be launched in June 2008 at a system cost of $6.5 billion. But it's 3 years behind because of lagging sensor development and inept performance by project managers and contractors. The latest estimate is pushing $10 billion, a Government Accountability Office official told the House Science Committee this week. NOAA pledges a new plan following outside reviews.

  4. Fossils' Past Is Mysterious

    1. Erik Stokstad

    The University of Washington's prestigious Burke Museum in Seattle is awaiting a report on potential problems with its vertebrate fossil collection. The concerns relate to nonhuman specimens dug up by curator John Rensberger, who retired last year. In 2003, a university investigation concluded that he had inadvertently removed fossils from federal land without a permit. With a new museum director at the helm, the university is now taking a broader look at the status of the discoveries. Three outside paleontologists recently examined the collections; their report is due out early next year.

  5. No Sea Change on Fisheries Bill

    1. Carolyn Gramling

    Conservationists want science to play a greater role in fisheries policy, but they say a new proposal introduced last week by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) doesn't quite go far enough.

    Stevens's bill gives more clout and independence to the scientific panels that currently advise fisheries councils, directing them to weigh advice on catch limits, health of fish stocks, and potential socioeconomic impacts when determining sustainable fish quotas—consideration now legally voluntary. But the new bill includes no mandates that managers must follow scientists' advice.

    Marine scientist Andrew Rosenberg of the University of New Hampshire in Durham says the bill is a slight improvement on current law. “It's better,” Rosenberg says.” But it's not there yet.” A similar bill awaits House action.