Key stem cell patent holder won’t seek licensing fees

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San Francisco Business Times

A Wisconsin group holding key stem cell patents has changed its mind and will not require licensing agreements or payments from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and its grant recipients.

Previously, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) said it intended to treat the voter-created institute as a commercial entity because the institute intends to seek a return on investment for the state on the $3 billion it will receive to fund stem cell research. WARF oversees the University of Wisconsin’s intellectual property portfolio. That includes fundamental patents on tools and methods relating to embryonic stem cell research, and the rights to five of the federally approved embryonic stem cell lines.

WARF issued a statement Jan. 22 that the institute would not need a license, and WARF would not seek to share payments the institute gets from its grantees. WARF said the changes were intended to facilitate collaborations between researchers and between industry and academia.

Dale Carlson, a spokesman for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said the institute had not discussed the new policy with the foundation, but that it “appears to be a major step forward. We are interested to hear more details and to review the new licensing policies,” he said.

WARF has faced intense public criticism from researchers, who said its policies would hamper collaboration.

The reversal comes as a California consumer group legally challenges three of the key stem cell patents WARF holds, hoping to get them declared invalid.

Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF, said the policy changes reflect an ongoing dialogue between WARF and researchers and university administrators across the country. “WARF‘s stem cell policies have evolved over the years, always in favor of increasing access and making it easier for scientists to move the technology forward,” he said.

Under the new policy, a company can sponsor research at an academic or nonprofit institution without a license, even if intellectual property rights pass from the research institution to the company. WARF said this will allow companies to get started with stem cell research in a low-cost, visible manner and hopes it will increase funding of stem cell research by for-profit companies.

WARF will still require companies to obtain a license when they want to bring the research into their company laboratories or when they want to develop a product for the market.

John M. Simpson of Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which petitioned the Patent and Trademark Office to reexamine the key WARF patents, said WARF‘s decision will not have any effect on the patent challenges.

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