Patent office to re-evaluate key stem cell patents

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East Bay Business Times (California)

A California consumer group said the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted its request that the agency re-examine three key human embryonic stem cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation saying there was “a substantial question” of their validity.

The Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights along with the Public Patent Foundation petitioned have called the patents “overreaching” and said they are impeding scientific progress and driving vital research overseas.

WARF has been allowed to profit at the expense of public health while many American scientists have been barred from conducting life-saving medical research,” said Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation. “These over-reaching patents threaten our health, waste taxpayer money, and send valuable research overseas.”

Because of the patents that the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds, academic and commercial researchers must obtain a license from it to do work on human embryonic stem cells. Countries outside of the United States do not honor the patents.

The issue of the WARF patents has become a particular concern in California with the passage of Proposition 71, the measure that authorized the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to disburse $3 billion for stem cell research. Because CIRM wants to capture royalties from research it funds to
create a return on the taxpayers’ investment, WARF has said it will approach license negotiations with the institute as if it were a commercial entity.

CIRM officials were not available for comment, but they have never publicly taken a position on the enforceability or scope of the WARF patents.

The WARF patents grow out of work done by University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson to isolate stem cell lines. The challenge argues that the patents should never have been awarded, because the previous work of other scientists made the derivation of human embryonic stem cells obvious and therefore unpatentable. To receive a patent, research must be new, useful and not obvious.

Representatives of WARF were not immediately available for comment, but previously have disputed charges that its patents inhibit research, and has stated confidence in the enforceability of the patents.

Consumer Watchdog
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