Research into psychedelics is all the rage nowadays. Have you heard about all the studies showing that Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is effective at treating food allergies? No, of course you haven’t, because there are none.
But that didn’t stop the US Patent Office from issuing a patent to applicants from Palo Alto Investors for just such a treatment, entitled: “A method of treating a food allergy condition in a subject in need thereof, the method comprising administering to the subject an amount of a lysergamide psychedelic agent effective to treat the subject for the food allergy condition.“
The company hasn’t actually performed any research or studies to determine whether LSD has any positive effect on food allergies. By staking this claim, Palo Alto Investors are simply asserting that they have dibs on the idea if such a treatment is possible.
“Basically it’s a prophecy, quite literally, where you just lay out what a research program may look like, and then just prophesize what the results you hope to achieve are,” said patent attorney Graham Pechenik to Vice in March.
But can you own the rights to an invention that hasn’t been invented yet? Apparently yes, according to US patent law. There’s a big difference between the prerequisites necessary for the granting of a patent and the requirements for FDA approval.
“People can just dream up things in their mind and say, ‘Let’s patent that quickly before any prior art emerges,’” said Mason Marks, lead at the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at Harvard Law School. “That’s common practice.”
We wonder if the ramifications of such patents could actually serve to prevent promising treatments from being developed. For example, what if someday researchers find evidence of therapeutic value in using LSD to treat food allergies; will a pre-issued patent dissuade them from undertaking the research necessary to determine that value, knowing that an intellectual property company will reap the benefits?
That remains to be seen. But how would we know?