Group calls for WARF director’s resignation from Patent Office board

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Milwaukee Business Journal

A California group that is challenging three key stem cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation wants the director of the University of Wisconsin patent licensing arm to resign from a U.S Patent Office board while the patents are being reconsidered.

The U.S. Patent Office is re-examining three patents held by WARF on human embryonic stem cells after a challenge filed last summer by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation. In a statement released Monday, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said stem cell project director of the Santa Monica, Calif., organization called for Carl Gulbrandsen to resign from the U.S. Patent Public Advisory Committee in order to avoid any conflict of interest.

In a letter to Gulbrandsen, the Foundation’s John Simpson wrote: “As WARF‘s managing director you clearly have a vested interest in the Patent Office’s operations as it contemplates rejecting those over-reaching patents. Already an initial office finding has denied all of your claims. While the cases are pending it is inappropriate for you to have such direct access to the highest levels of PTO decision making.”

Gulbrandsen was named to a three-year term on the Patent Office board in January 2005. The 12-member advisory committee represents unaffiliated inventors, small-business owners, lawyers, executives of large corporations and labor associations.

In early April, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the patent claims by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation on three broad patents relating to embryonic stem cells. The two groups challenging the patents 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 patents are now under review.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation, of New York, challenged the WARF patents in July 2006. The two groups said they brought the challenge because the three WARF patents were impeding scientific progress and driving vital stem cell research overseas, where the patents are not recognized.

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