Patent Office to Review Challenge to Key Stem-Cell Patents Held by U. of Wisconsin

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as expected, has agreed to consider challenges to three patents on embryonic stem cells owned by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the patenting arm of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The patents cover discoveries by James A. Thomson, a professor of anatomy.

Two public-interest groups — the Public Patent Foundation, in New York City, and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, in Santa Monica, Calif. — had filed challenges to the patents in July. The groups asserted that the patents were overly broad and should never have been issued because other scientists had previously conducted experiments and published papers on that topic that made Mr. Thomson’s inventions obvious to someone skilled in the art of such science.

In their petition, the groups also accused the foundation of undermining the advance of the field with its aggressive approach to licensing its patents (The Chronicle, September 15).

In accepting the petitions, the patent office declined to consider the groups’ claims that the patents were causing significant “public harm” because such issues are beyond the office’s scope of authority. The office said it would consider whether evidence of scientific work conducted before Mr. Thomson did his experiments had rendered the patents invalid.

The two groups, in a news release, praised the patent office’s action.

Officials at the Wisconsin foundation and at the WiCell Research Institute, its subsidiary that manages the stem-cell patents, have said that they expected the patent office to accept the petitions. Elizabeth L. Donley, director of WiCell, said the foundation believed the patents would withstand the legal challenge, and then “they’ll be pretty much bulletproof.”

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