Greater Manchester Police
We had an interesting conversation with a few police officers who were patrolling the campus, where heavy alcohol consumption is a common occurrence every weekend. After explaining our project, we asked them more about current methods used to test intoxication levels. They explained that not all police officers are deployed with a breathalyser, only a select few. They also voiced out the discomfort of having to carry around the bulky and heavy breathalysers. However, they were particularly impressed with the reasonable accuracy of the breathalyser.
They further went on to explain how the 2 minute lag time might affect the accuracy of the breath alcohol results. An alternative to a breathalyser would need to be faster or at least nearly as fast. Thus, our AlcoPatch being small, compact and (potentially) cheap, could serve as a good alternative to bulky breathalyser units. This would also allow every police officer to be deployed with a tool of their own.
The National Health Service (NHS) is a publicly funded national healthcare system for England. We had the opportunity to speak to Kelly O’Brien, a Drug and Alcohol Education Officer of Healthy Schools Manchester, about our project. She mentioned that our project reminded them of a pH indicator, and recommended that a device which could detect ethanol in solutions would be another alternate use for our AlcoPatch.
She said that the AlcoPatch would not have much use for the NHS support groups. However, she suggested that students in Manchester who drink recreationally might benefit from this patch if they were interested in controlling their alcohol intake.
She also mentioned that it would be interesting to find out the implications of creating an AlcoPatch prototype and disseminating them to the public. It would be curious to find out if the patch would encourage people to reduce their alcohol intake and drink within the safe limits.
Ward Hadaway (IP lawyer)
After some discussion with Andrea Vero ,an Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer , we were told that in order to patent a product, it needs to be new or be combined in a new way. We would also need to be able to show that the product can be manufactured. Patents cannot be applied if they have been introduced into the public domain.
We also discussed the trademarking of the ‘AlcoPatch’ and ‘E.lcoholi’ names. In order to trademark the names, we would need to be certain similar names to these are not already available globally. She also directed us to a patent attorney and to discuss more about patenting and trademarking.
Venner Shipley (Patent Attorney)
We spoke to Matthew Handley, a patent attorney from Venner Shipley as recommended by Andrea Vero. He told us that patents are based on novelty where there is an ‘inventive step’ of some sort. Furthermore, a patent cannot be made if there has been ‘absolute disclosure’ where everything about our research and designs have been made public. To determine whether our research is patentable, we would have to determine what we have not shared publicly, then decide if this would be enough to warrant patenting it.
As our broad product design has been disclosed, it cannot be patented. Moreover, people who are not ‘experts’ in synthetic biology would not be able to replicate the experiments and as such, are not a threat to patent applications. However, our Wikipage can be easily found and will remain in the public domain, which can be traced and plagiarised in the future. Thus, the content available on our Wikipage could severely weaken our patent application.These discussions made us aware of the important IP issues surrounding the "open science" approach advocated by iGEM and other promoters of synthetic biology and let to intense debates within the team about the best compromise between openness and economic viability.
National Clinic for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
We had the opportunity to hold a phone interview with Dr. Mukherjee, the Director of the National Clinic for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Psychiatrist . We gave him a brief overview of our project and asked for his opinion about the AlcoPatch. Although he commended us on our great idea, he could not see his patients benefiting from the patch; in his practice he sees children who suffer from brain damage associated with alcohol abusive mothers. We concluded that the AlcoPatch would not be useful to his patients (children) but perhaps could help pregnant women control their alcohol intake.