MILWAUKEE -- A consumer group, a patent foundation and a stem cell scientist are challenging patents on human embryonic stem cells held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
The Public Patent Foundation, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and Jeanne Loring, a stem cell scientist at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California, claim that the patents hinder research, push scientists to pursue work overseas and represent a waste of taxpayer money.
"It's absolutely absurd that one person or organization could own the rights to life itself," said John Simpson, stem cell project director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, based in California.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation _ or WARF _ is the patenting and licensing arm of the University of Wisconsin. University researcher Jamie Thomson first isolated embryonic stem cells in 1998.
WARF director Carl Gulbrandsen said he was confident the patents are valid, saying the challenge was motivated by politics and money.
"WARF stem cell patents do not inhibit research," he said. "They support and encourage it."
Simpson, Loring and others announced their intentions to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke three patents on Tuesday, after the Senate approved a measure to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
"These patents are impeding our research," Loring said. "They are more important than what is going on in the Senate right now. They are making scientists go overseas."
Loring said the patents should never have been granted because earlier work by other researchers made the science "obvious and therefore unpatentable."
Gulbrandsen said WARF's WiCell Research Institute has provided free licenses and cells to 324 research groups. He said those licenses allow researchers to patent and publish their own discoveries.
Two years ago, voters in California approved a measure to fund therapeutic cloning research. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is trying to distribute $3 billion in stem cell research grants throughout the state and officials have said WARF's patenting has complicated their efforts to give grants to for-profit entities.
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