Restrictive Stem Cell Patents Overturned

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 4th, 2007

USPTO Building
USPTO Building

The licensing arm of the University of Wisconsin has long been criticized for its patents in embryonic stem cell research. Researchers, companies, and public interest groups have all asserted that, by effectively covering all embryonic stem cell lines, the patents are stifling research and delaying potential treatments. Earlier this week, a federal agency agreed with these charges, and invalidated the patents.

After James Thompson of UW became the first scientist to isolate human embryonic stem cells in 1998, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation obtained three patents that cover essentially all human stem cell research, and even the cells themselves. Last July, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation, with support from stem cell researcher Jeanne Loring, requested that US Patent and Trademark Office review the patents. On Monday, the PTO sided with the advocacy groups in a preliminary ruling and invalidated the patents. Although WARF will pursue a lengthy appeals process (the patents do bring in millions of dollars, after all), Loring said that the decision will "remove one of the highest barriers to progress."

Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "the PTO decision marks a welcome turning point in the battle against the unnecessary and unproductive privatization of mankind's quest to understand the natural universe." The next logical step would be to reexamine the wisdom of issuing patents on the human genome. Now's the time: A bill introduced this February in the House of Representatives would end future gene patenting.

Congratulations to Loring, FTCR, and the Public Patent Foundation on their victory.

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Posted in Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts, Patents & Other IP, Stem Cell Research, US Federal


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