Bulletin of the World Health Organization

A clearing house for diagnostic testing: the solution to ensure access to and use of patented genetic inventions?

Esther van Zimmeren, Birgit Verbeure, Gert Matthijs, & Geertrui Van Overwalle


In genetic diagnostics, the emergence of a so-called “patent thicket” is imminent. Such an overlapping set of patent rights may have restrictive effects on further research and development of diagnostic tests, and the provision of clinical diagnostic services. Currently, two models that may facilitate access to and use of patented genetic inventions are attracting much debate in various national and international fora: patent pools and clearing houses. In this article, we explore the concept of clearing houses. Several types of clearing houses are identified. First, we describe and discuss two types that would provide access to information on the patented inventions: the information clearing house and the technology exchange clearing house. Second, three types of clearing houses are analysed that not only offer access to information but also provide an instrument to facilitate the use of the patented inventions: the open access clearing house, the standardized licences clearing house and the royalty collection clearing house. A royalty collection clearing house for genetic diagnostic testing would be the most comprehensive as it would serve several functions: identifying patents and patent claims essential to diagnostic testing, matching licensees with licensors, developing and supplying standardized licences, collecting royalties, monitoring whether users respect licensing conditions, and providing dispute resolution services such as mediation and arbitration. In this way, it might function as an effective model for users to facilitate access to and use of the patented inventions. However, it remains to be seen whether patent holders with a strong patent portfolio will be convinced by the advantages of the royalty collection clearing house and be willing to participate.