A Commerce Department patent regulation allowing safety rule exemptions for firms seeking to create new forms of life was suspended yesterday by Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps.
The regulation, issued Jan. 10, was described in The Washington Post Feb. 5. The following week Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. asked Kreps to cancel it and wait for an interagency committee's recommendation on how to regulate firms entering this new research era.
Scientists can now combine bits of the genetic material, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), to create hybrid molecules that can be inserted into living organisms like bacteria.
The research could lead to creation of new medicines and other products but might also produce harmful organisms spreading disease and death.
The National Institute of Health issued strict guidelines last June to govern scientists receiving federal funds for such research. President Ford created an interagency committee last September to study ways to cover industry.
The January Commerce Department order said firms planning such research could get accelerated patents if they obeyed all the NIH guidelines but one requiring advance notice of research plans. That guideline, which means the safety of the research could be judged by independent monitors, is considered crucial by most scientists.
The Commerce Department said yesterday that accelerated patents will be permitted only on new laboratory equipment that contributes to safety in this new, risky field.