Many US. scientists cloning genes in microbes could be affected by a patent awarded this month to Genentech Inc. of South San Francisco. The decision’s scope remains to be seen, but some observers believe that the impact may be slight—a sign, they say, of the growing maturity of the biotechnology industry.

The question of which institutions or researchers must seek a license from Genentech, and at what stage in the process, is “a legal quagmire,” according to Iver Cooper, patent counsel for the Association of Biotechnology Companies. Until the patent has been challenged in court, disagreement over its breadth is likely to continue.

“An awful lot of people are going to be examining it very closely to see if it’s valid,” said George Frank, senior counsel at E.I. Du Pont de Nemours, who said it came as a surprise to others in the industry.

The patent, for which Genentech first...

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