Our policy & pratice forcus on 3 main goals

As for the first goal, we've done a research on Intellectual Property. Most iGEMers especially those who have participated in the track, Information Processing, tend to minimize the importance of Intellectual Property and Patents. We believe that a proper education in Intellectual Property will produce a positive effect on the researchers. Our job was a first step into introducing Intellectual Property and patents to the iGEMers so they can have better understanding of their work.
For the second and third goals we presented to public outside competition about Synbio. While working as communicators, we learned how others think about our field and how we can spread our activity.

Problem Solving


We, UT-Tokyo encountered a unforeseen problem during processing our project: patents. Googling for it, we've noticed that we have little knowledge on Intellectual Property and Patents. Seen around the world, some teams in overseas have established their company on the basis of their iGEM project, but there's no teams like that in Japan. Why does this happen? Does the situation narrow potential of our projects? In addition, our survey shows knowledge about Intellectual Property and Patent have highly-demand than ever. On the other hand, students including us, don't know how to gain such information.

Therefore, we conducted interviews over a broad population. Experts, professors, researchers, students and other professionals were part of our research target. The results of our observations are presented in the following paragraphs, along with our conclusions regarding the topic.


From the researches and interviews above, we reached to the conclusion: in patenting, there is clear difference in pros and cons, even in opinions of people. The problem is not straightforward. We can't say patenting is always good, or bad, thus, we put summary of all the pros and cons at the bottom part of Problem Solving.

Intellectual Property and SynBio

What is Intellectual Property? Before the main topic, we let you know basic information.

  • What is IP?
  • IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish. [1].

  • What is Patent?
  • A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Patents are granted for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period. [2]

  • SynBio and Patents
  • Patenting FAQ

    Q. How can I do to gain knowledge on academic patenting?
    A. Actual experience on it could be an effective way of patent learning. However, if you don't have such a chance, you can substitute it with researching previous case.

    Q. How much do I need for patenting?
    A. In Japan, about 400,000yen is required. It varies from country to country

    Q. Who should I consult if I want to file patent?
    A. Patent attorney or company which are strong in researching would help you.

    Q. In which country should I apply for patent?
    A. It depends on what kind of study you do. Since Patent is not applicable to the whole world, you have to select country to apply. The need is in where the field of research thrive.[3]

    Left: Yoichi Muratomi Right:>

    Things you MUST NOT do

    • talk to someone in cafeteria

    • spread the information thorough SNS

    • publish the idea including at academic meeting or in papers

    • winning grants

    • file patent with incomplete study

    Some countries have time period for patenting after your disclosure (ex, 1 year in the U.S.)

    Things you SHOULD do for patenting

    • search for previous case of patent

    • present your ideas or studies in BROAD outline with no details

    • gain knowledge on how to write application form of patening (the result could be changed even at the point of the written style)


We asked two persons from both sides, educator and educated. In firms, all scientists are required to learn IP, hence firstly, we went interview to a person in the field and secondly, scientists not directly related to patent.

  • Hiroyuki Takahashi, from a science company, Leave A Nest corp.
  • Q1. What do you do?
       I do work as researcher and mediation between scientists and firms. In addition, I sometimes help scientists with establishing new project together and sometimes look for scientists instead of huge firms. I do many things for else. Most of my jobs are for scientists and firms. My work is like a bridge. I connect people to people, projects to people, data to people and government subvention to scientists. We, our company doesn't just throw our work. We always stand by our customers.

    Q2. How do your company give education about IP on scientist?
    Education of IP isn’t a must in every company. Member of Research and Development department might give some lectures, however, IP strategy requires real experiment in projects. From the reason, new comers rarely be placed there. In our company, we set a trainee to a scientist who needs that kind of knowledge.

    Q3. We heard that most scientists do not have enough knowledge of patent when they are newly hired. How is it?
    Those knowledge were not needed except for specific projects. So that story is true. I don’t know how other firms are but I guess they are nearly same.

    Q4. Do you think putting knowledge on IP is needed for undergraduates or graduates? And why?
    Having knowledge can’t be in vain. However, Intellectual Property is difficult to learn from only on the paper, so opportunity of operational experience is desirable. I recommend those who want to have the skill, to apply for internship. Reading book could support them too. It would help students to do favorable study along with IP when they want it. In other way, you can use website of Japan Patent Office. Just browsing IP documents on skills you were interested in, would do you good too.

    Q5.Message to Students?
    IP has both good and bad sides. It might widen your possibility but also narrows it too. Thinking how to face IP, and what merit you can gain do your business plan good in the future because it strongly relates to what do you want to do. Putting your iGEM project into consideration with it helps you to learn more on IP. Good Luck.

  • Dr. Ellinger, a Ph.D of BioChemistry
  • Q1.What do you do?
    I am an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo. I teach science and scientific writing to 1st and 2nd year students

    Q2.Have you ever thought about Intellectual Property?
    Yes, I have thought about patenting my work. Two of my previous projects were considered for patents (in the USA), however they were rejected.

    Q3.and why(not)?
    For those projects, my colleagues and I thought that we had created inventions that had commercial potential. Therefore we wanted to protect out ideas.

    Q4.What do you think of the fact; Japanese university rarely give lectures to undergrads and graduates?
    I think it is unfortunate that Japanese Universities (and American Universities too) rarely give lectures to undergrads and graduate students about intellectual property. Although having scientific publications is the main criterion for measuring a scientist’s success, I think that in the future, patenting and intellectual property will also be important. So it is necessary that we train students early so that they can learn to identify work that has potential to be intellectual property. Students also need to learn easy in their career how to protect their data properly so they can validate their claims when applying for patents.

    Q5.Do you think the situation should be changed? and why?
    Yes, see my answer to question 4.

    Q6.We would like you to give us comments for young scientists?
    Be creative and think outside of the box. The most successful scientists are the ones who are creative and willing to take risks!

  • Generals
  • We also conveyed a survey about Intellectual Property and Patent on Synthetic Biology.
    Body: 70 Target: all age, various backgrounds.

    Q1. What is your academic background?

    Q2.How familiar are you with the following terms?

    Q3.Have you ever learnt Intellectual Property at your university ?

    Q4. Do you think it is important to teach about IP to undergraduate students?

    Q5. Should all technologies patent-able?

    Q6. Synthetic Biology is a research field that deals with the modification of life with a purpose. For example, in 2010, some researchers managed to create a bacterium with completely synthetic DNA. Do you think that this kind of emerging technologies should be patentable?

    Q7. Why/Why not?

    • it can be abused unless patented

    • It encourages research.

    • I believe patents have the power to protect original ideas and allow for those ideas to enter the mainstream.

    • It'is a product derived from their hard work and knowledge, thus deserve protección.

    • If it is not secured, somebody might use it for bad things.

    • Patent helps protect the right of inventor(s) from being violated.

    • There is no reason why denying patent filings.

    • Patents represent a barrier to the sharing of knowledge, which is socially produced. They tend to distort the responses of research centers, universities and industries towards social needs, since they encourage the development of profitable technologies instead of prioritizing human needs. This is clear, for example, when we look for the existing disparity among researches dealing with diseases affecting poor countries and those dealing with diseases affecting rich populations in the global north. Synthetic Biology should be open for all, avoiding big industrial groups to rely on their patents to avoid other social actors to develop researches in the field in an open source way. Far from encouraging developments in the field, patents lead to a logic of "the winner takes it all", especially when one consider the "building block" structure of Syntethic Bilogy.

    • They have not invented anything, they are playing with life.

    • Because the main reason for patenting are economical, so no one else can exploit the invention, and there are many inventions such as this one that are a great breakthrough in science and should be exploited by other people to see its capabilities and should no be used only for economical reasons.

    • All discoveries should be shared to facilitate further researches.

    • They took effort to make that happen. They deserve a reward.

    • Knowledge with good purposes should be free.

    NOT SURE(excerpt)
    • I am not an expert on the subject, and I do not know the impact of a technology being patentable.

    • Method itself should be patentable because it is their invention. But created bacterium should not be patentable.

Pros and Cons in fact

  • Widen the potential of your study

  • Enable to write thesis so that it convenient to patening

  • Could be harm submitting thesis faster because preparing for patening takes a lot of time

  • Could be harm patening improved technology

May Festival

This page is for solution of Goals 2 and 3

At the festival of University of Tokyo, what we calls May Festival, we conduct survey on synthetic biology and us with other iGEM teams in Japan: NokoGen, KAIT_JAPAN, iGEM Kyoto, iGEM Tokyo-Tech, iGEM Nagahama


the more people have knowledge on biology, the more people would get interested in activities or fields of biology. In addition, knowledge strongly exert effects on their understandings although it didn't give effect on what kind of fields in synthetic biology they want to be develop. Thus we can say our hypothesis was partly correct in that projects which are far from our daily life tend to be underestimated.
From those above, we noticed the importance of basic education on biology.


We considered that biological information processing researches like Turing pattern are not regarded as important among people who don’t know well about biology and that can have a bad influence on these researches. For example, many of such people who aren't ready to invest these researches. That’s why we investigated whether it is true or not that there are differences of thinking between people who know well about biology and people who don’t.

We took a survey and analyzed the data.


We asked to the guests 6 questions below:

Q1.Which field of synthetic biology do you expect more development?

  1. 1.Food/Consumer Electronics

  2. 2.Medical health

  3. 3.Environment

  4. 4.Simulation

  5. 5.Basic Study

  6. 6.Computer/Information

Q2.Were your understandings of SynBio study of each field deepened? (5 scale)
Q3. Do you know Central Dogma?
Q4.Are you interested in formation of Zebra’s stripe?
Q5.Do you want to study the formation?
Q6.Do you want to join iGEM?

Question 1 and 2 were also handed out to other iGEM teams in Japan so that we can see whether there is a difference in the 2 points: interest and intelligibility, between general and people related to synthetic biology.


From the background written above, we made more detailed hypothesis.

  1. 1.General is likely to choose options related to daily life(a,b) because it is easy to imagine the effect of development, on the contrary, iGEMers would like to choose others(c, d, f) because they know those 3 options can’t be eliminated for developing whole field of synthetic biology.

  2. 2.Q2 would also give us a proof that the more test taker has knowledge on synthetic biology, the higher understanding for q(c, d, f) after explanation would like to get. In other words, basic projects are more complex than others which are relatively close to our daily life and thus knowledge must be required for comprehension.

  3. 3.Q3-Q6 would represent the same thing as HYP.2. interest on iGEM and study of Turing Patterns are strongly exerted on effect of knowledge.


1.Correlation between the knowledge of central dogma and an interest to zebras’ stripe formation.
p-value = 0.01769

[AS EXPECTED] knowledge on biology and interest in biological phenomenon revealed a correlation.

2.Correlation between the knowledge about central dogma and an interest to investigate this.
p-value = 2.755e-10

[AS EXPECTED] the graph shows people who have basic knowledge on biology is also likely to join studies of biological phenomena.

3.Correlation between the knowledge about central dogma and an interest to join in biological activities like iGEM.
p-value = 1.035e-10

[AS EXPECTED] the same as above

Those 3 results clearly show a fact; education is a must to get more grants or interest from general (inc. firms) for development of biological study.

Correlation between the knowledge about central dogma and the field of biological researches you are the most interested in.
p-value = 0.9101

[CONTRARY TO OUR EXPECTATIONS]Knowledge gives little effect on interest on people. This is because those who have much knowledge also show interest to fields (a, b) i.e. related to our daily life.

Correlation between the knowledge about central dogma and the number of people who answered the all questions of (5).
p-value = 0.05639

[AS EXPECTED]Those who have less biological knowledge tend to unanswer the whole question above. This is because it’s quite difficult for people who are not familiar with biology to digest all content of poster session, and activity of iGEM.

Result of survey 2 tells us the same thing as that of survey 1. Without knowledge, it is quite difficult to enhance the interest in general to biological field and this could cause hardship when scientists study; less money and underestimated.
We found out communication with both other iGEM teams and general is the key to bridge the gap. We, UT-Tokyo will continue taking communication with inner and outer society!

5. Other data

Q2. How were your understandings in each field of projects changed after poster session?
1. unchanged 2. not so much 3. got better a little bit 4. got better 5. got better so much

From two graphs above, we can see clear differences.
See the choice d, e, f, the fields difficult to imagine from daily life. Understandings of those who don't have much knowledge on iGEM projects and biology, tend to think the explanations were hard to grasp in contrast to that of iGEMers'. On the other hand, choice a, b, c the fields easy to imagine from daily life, shows that non-iGEMers' understandings were drastically improved in contrast to that of iGEMers'.

Public Participation

Our public participation was mainly about education. This year, we did two presentations and did 1 survey.


TargetChildren aged 5 – 17
Content Done a presentation of our last year’s project.
Made special lecture to little children about what is E.coli
Introduced iGEM and our schedule through a year.
Result through a various questions, we could renovate our flaws of presentation.
Succeeded in attracting both children and their parents into the world of synthetic biology and activities in iGEM.

May Festival

We made another chance to introduce us and our project at our school festival, May Fest.

TargetAll ages
Content Introduced not only our project but also some other teams in Japan; NokoGem, Tokyo-Tech, Kyoto, Nagahama, KAIT_Japan.
Carried a survey about how people thing on synthetic biology. -> Result
Result Succeeded in understanding current situation that synbio is facing.
(For more details, see the link above)



[3]interview from Yoichi Muratomi, from Industory-academia collaborational section, Yokohama National Univiersity