This essay reconstructs in previously unavailable detail the 1980s race to clone and market what would be biotechnology's most important product to date, erythropoietin or EPO. The scientific contest continued into the U.S. courts, which were charged with deciding competing patent claims to the natural substance as a drug. Through case law in the new domain of recombinant DNA, the courts imposed a de facto policy that shaped the business and scientific environment of small biotechnology firms so as to narrow research efforts and assimilate the sector to the established pharmaceutical industry. However, alternative dispensations in patent law were possible at the time, and the public's interest might have been better served.


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