Doctors Discover Copyright Law: Cognitive Screening Test Killed Over Infringement Claims

Mike Masnick | TechDirt | December 20, 2011

We've certainly talked about how ridiculous patents have gotten in the way of health care professionals and doctors providing the best care they can. Beyond basic things like gene patents, the idea that diagnostic tests are patentable is somewhat horrifying for anyone with any sense of decency when it comes to trying to keep people healthy. But, apparently the issue doesn't stop there, and the medical community is suddenly grappling with some doctors using aggressive copyright enforcement to block competing diagnostic tests from being available.

The story comes from Dr. John C. Newman and lawyer Robin Feldman in the respected New England Journal of Medicine, where they recount the story of the Mini–Mental State Examination (MMSE). A simple 30-item screening test that was first published in 1975 basically became a defacto standard that was used (and published!) widely. As the authors note, it was available in textbooks, pocket guides and websites -- and "memorized by countless residents and medical students." All in all, it sounds like a useful tool that was being put to good use. But then, decades after it was created, the authors of the diagnostic test discovered copyright. And that's when the trouble began: