Two consumer groups that had challenged three key human embryonic stem cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation said Friday that they have filed an appeal to the patent office’s decision to uphold the patents.
Consumer Watchdog, formerly The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, and the Public Patent Foundation appealed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Board of Appeals and Interferences. The appeal comes three weeks after the agency ended the review of two key patents, upholding the validity of both in official certifications.
The 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 two groups noted that the patent challenge had improved the situation for stem cell researchers; shortly after the PTO launched the re-examination, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the patent and licensing arm of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, announced a substantial easing of its licensing requirements.
"WARF executives were acting like arrogant bullies blinded by dollar signs," said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s stem cell project director. "Our challenge has engendered a more co-operative stance towards the stem cell research community on their part."
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."
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.