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I have recently become aware of the news that a company has patented regional brain responses to “appeal” and “engagement”.

Through the scarcity of the material presented, it is really hard to get an idea of what the patent really entails. But from the sound of it, we are suggested that the patent is about the responses of particular brain regions, and that their responses predict consumer engagement and product/information appeal. If this is the case, it is very disturbing!

What’s more disturbing, is the note about what brain regions we are looking at. The regions implied are the temporal and frontal gyri of the brain. OK, so WHICH frontal gyrus are we talking about? The superior frontal gyrus, the medial frontal gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus? If the patent says only “frontal gyrus”, we’re talking pretty much the entire frontal cortex! It’s exactly the same thing with the temporal gyrus: do they mean superior, inferior, lateral? If this is the state of patenting, I’m on my way to the patent office to submit a patent for all activations in the brain’s gyrus (patent 1) and the brain’s sulcus (patent 2)…

The way I see it, the patent should only be possible if it has a VERY detailed description of:

  1. the stimuli being used (specific images used, stimulus duration, stimulus order, ISI, jittering etc.)
  2. which MRI scanner specs is used (e.g. a Siemens Trio 3T with 8-channel head coil)
  3. the EPI sequence is being used
  4. preprocessing procedures
  5. 1st and 2nd order analysis (PDF) protocol, and
  6. statistical threshold and method (PDF) for selection of a priori brain region (regions of interest, ROI, protocol).

This would mean that others who use the exact same stimuli and precisely the same procedure should pay the patent owner. But any other scanning protocol, analysis method, use of other stimuli etc etc would be an abuse of the patenting system and should be discarded immediately. You cannot and should never be able to patent the response of a particular brain region – it is the worst case of inverse inference that I would have heard about!

The way I see it, the patent should only be possible if it has a VERY detailed description of:

  1. the stimuli being used (specific images used, stimulus duration, stimulus order, ISI, jittering etc.)
  2. which MRI machine is being used (e.g. a Siemens Trio 3T with 8-channel head coil)
  3. what EPI sequence is being used
  4. preprocessing procedures
  5. 1st and 2nd order analysis protocol
  6. statistical threshold and method for selection of a priori brain region (regions of interest, ROI, protocol).

This would mean that others who use the exact same stimuli and precisely the same procedure should pay the patent owner. But any other scanning protocol, analysis method, use of other stimuli etc etc would be an abuse of the patenting system and should be discarded immediately. You cannot and should never be able to patent the response of a particular brain region – it is the worst case of reverse inference that I would have heard about!

-Thomas

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