ScienceScope

Science  11 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5873, pp. 165
  1. Biotech Lawyers, Rejoice

    It's back to square one for would-be reformers at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Last week, a Virginia federal court rejected rules the office proposed last year that would have limited the number of so-called continuations that can extend the normal 17-year life of a patent claim with amendments and appeals. Up to one-third of U.S. patent filings in recent years have been continuations (Science, 28 July 2006, p. 425), and USPTO said the proposed limits would have cut their workload. Other critics say continuations give some patent holders an unfair advantage. But the Biotechnology Industry Organization said the changes would have inhibited the “financing necessary to bring innovative … life-saving products to market.” Industry sued last year to block the change; a federal judge sided with them, saying the rules exceeded “USPTO's rulemaking authority.”

  2. The Big Apple Does Science

    New York City will display its scientific chops next month when a coterie of scientists, media stars, foundations, and university presidents present the World Science Festival. The 5-day event will include a play about oxygen, a dance performance inspired by string theory, a neuroscience lecture paired with a musical meditation on consciousness, and a World Science Summit modeled on the annual Davos confab. Running from 28 May through 1 June, the extravaganza is the brainchild of Columbia University physicist Brian Greene and his partner, Tracy Day, a television producer, who hope “to sustain a general public informed by the content of science.”

  3. Buffaloed

    An effort to prevent the spread of brucellosis from bison in Yellowstone National Park to nearby cattle is poorly managed, says the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Although there are no documented cases of transmission, federal and Montana state agencies are 5 years behind schedule in vaccinating bison and securing a conservation easement around the park. The plan currently sanctions the slaughter of thousands of bison that leave Yellowstone, as long as the herd doesn't drop below 3000. Worried by the extensive culling, members of the House Committee on Natural Resources requested the GAO investigation. The resulting report calls for concrete objectives and greater accountability in the plan, which began in 2000.

  4. Talk It Out

    Sixty U.S. research universities want the next Administration to create an ongoing platform to discuss the needs of academic researchers. And the current science adviser thinks it's a good idea.

    A white paper (www.aau.edu/reports/SAAS_08.pdf) from the Association of American Universities (AAU) calls for a committee comprised of top federal science officials and university presidents that would study problems with the current “partnership” and suggest changes. “There's no mechanism for a continuing dialogue on issues that cut across agencies,” explains AAU's Tobin Smith, citing differing rules on grants management as well as broader policies relating to regulatory requirements and funding.

    The panel would be a new breed of advisory cat: Existing oversight bodies are made up of either outsiders, such as the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or insiders, like the National Science and Technology Council. But presidential science adviser John Marburger says that “the issues raised in the AAU report are important ones” and that “the tasks AAU is suggesting would be possible in such a committee.”

  5. Stern Swan Song

    U.S. lawmakers pledged last week to fight for more money for NASA's beleaguered science program, even as outgoing NASA science chief S. Alan Stern (Science, 4 April, p. 31) warned in a farewell letter about the rising costs of individual projects. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the panel responsible for NASA funding, told NASA Administrator Michael Griffin that she would push again this year to win $1 billion more for the agency in 2009, in part to take the pressure off the science budget. A similar effort died in conference last year.

    On the same day, a parade of witnesses told the House Science and Technology Committee that NASA must keep the fiscal lid on its launcher to replace the space shuttle. It's a $3.5 billion item in the 2009 budget that many fear will drain money from science. Meanwhile, Stern said in his letter that he resigned “only after several months of hard thought and reflection about the consequences of spiraling mission costs that [the Science Mission Directorate] could not control.” The issue, he added, “became an important matter of principle that trumped even my boss,” referring to Griffin. Asked what he will do now, Stern told Science, “Find a job.”

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