Agency Ends Review of WARF Stem Cell Patents

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ended its review of two key stem cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), upholding the validity of both in official certifications.

WARF, the patent and licensing arm of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Thursday that the Patent Office issued re-examination certificates for the human embryonic stem cell patents that were challenged by a pair of consumer groups.

WARF announced in March that the patent office upheld the nonprofit foundation’s two most important base human embryonic stem cell patents in final decisions that could not be appealed.

Three patents were challenged through re-examination proceedings initiated in October 2006 at the request of New York City-based Public Patent Foundation and the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The groups had argued that the work done by University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson to isolate stem cell lines was obvious in the light of previous scientific research, making his work unpatentable. The groups claimed
the three WARF patents were "impeding scientific progress and driving vital stem cell research overseas."

The patent office rejected the arguments by the groups that Thomson’s discoveries were obvious in light of previous research, finding that the expert declarations they submitted were "flawed by hindsight reasoning."

"Due to the patent office’s extremely thorough and detailed reexaminations, we feel our patents are stronger than ever and affirm that Dr. James Thomson’s groundbreaking discoveries are patentable inventions," Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF managing director, said in a statement Thursday.

Stem cell research, pioneered at UW-Madison, is viewed by many to be the gateway to finding cures to debilitating neurological and muscular diseases.

Such research is also believed to hold commercial opportunities that could result in economic development. In November 2004, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced a $750 million plan involving state and private investment to fund stem cell research in addition to research in the health sciences.

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