Groups urge revocation of stem-cell patents;

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San Jose Mercury News (California)

Two public interest advocacy groups Tuesday petitioned the federal government to revoke three University of Wisconsin patents they claim are driving scientists overseas and could hinder California’s $3 billion stem-cell research institute.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke three patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The public interest groups contend the patents — issued in 1998, 2001 and 2006 — never should have been granted and are “causing significant public harm” by forcing some U.S. scientists to pursue stem-cell studies in other countries where the patents aren’t enforced.

The groups also fear the patents might hurt California’s voter-approved stem-cell research institute, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, by forcing it to pay a fee to the University of Wisconsin for any stem-cell products it develops.

“The folks in Wisconsin need to get the dollar signs out of their eyes and stop impeding vital research,” said John Simpson of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

But Carl Gulbrandsen, the Wisconsin foundation’s managing director, issued a statement saying the group “is confident that our stem-cell patents are valid,” and disputed the claim that the patents are causing scientists problems.

The patents were granted based on research by Wisconsin researcher James Thomson. They deal with technology for isolating human embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any tissue in the body and which many scientists hope will yield treatments for ailments ranging from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes.

But Dan Ravicher, executive director of the New York-based Public Patent Foundation, said the patents never should have been granted. He said his group has discovered three other researchers who developed similar stem-cell technology before Thomson.
Contact Steve Johnson at [email protected] or (408) 920-5043.

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