Stem cell patent skeptics also filed: Pair made claims like those under scrutiny

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)

Two of the scientists questioning the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation‘s key embryonic stem cell patents tried to patent similar discoveries themselves, the foundation said Wednesday.

Their patent applications were made after the foundation filed patent applications on the work of James Thomson, the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells.

Neither of the scientists disclosed their patent applications when they filed declarations in April in support of two foundations on the coasts that are trying to have the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office overturn WARF‘s patents, the Madison-based foundation said.

The two scientists told the patent office that the discoveries covered by WARF‘s patents were obvious to anyone familiar with the field. WARF is questioning why, then, the scientists filed for similar patents on embryonic stem cells.

Also, one of the scientists failed to tell the patent office her nine stem cell lines listed on the National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Registry in 2001 never developed into stem cell lines, the documents say.

WARF says it disclosed this information to the patent office Tuesday under what is called the “duty of candor” standard.

“We have an ongoing duty to mention something to the examiner that is material. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know. But if it’s incomplete, we have to let the patent office know, ‘You don’t have the complete picture on this,’ ” said Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF‘s managing director.

The scientists’ past patent applications are not relevant to whether WARF‘s patents are valid, said John M. Simpson, stem cell project director at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer watchdog group in Santa Monica, Calif.

Simpson’s group a year ago requested re-examination of WARF‘s patents with the Public Patent Foundation, a New York group that targets the patent system.

“There’s a consensus view among scientists that this was an obvious development. I think that’s why, without particularly much trouble, we got stem cell scientists to file affidavits to that effect,” Simpson said.

Jeanne Loring, at the Burnham Institute in San Diego, didn’t immediately return a reporter’s phone calls Wednesday afternoon. An automatic e-mail response from Alan Trounson of Monash University in Australia said he was traveling.

Loring and Trounson both said in their declarations supporting the effort to overturn WARF‘s patents that the scientific literature made it obvious someone would be able to isolate human embryonic stem cells.

“Had I or any other stem cell scientist been given human embryos and sufficient funding, we could have made the same accomplishment, because the science required to isolate and maintain human embryonic stem cells was obvious at the time,” Loring said in her declaration.

The lines she was working on in 2001 didn’t expand because she was taken by surprise when the call came out to add them to the list of approved lines and she “didn’t have the luxury of continuing to culture them” because of a lack of full-time lab people, Loring said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel last

Douglas Melton and Chad Cowan of Harvard University also filed declarations that support overturning WARF‘s patents. None of the four scientists’ declarations have any supporting documentation, such as lab notes, to show that they believed Thomson’s work was obvious in the mid-1990s, Gulbrandsen said.

Also, the first claim in Loring’s 1999 patent application was even broader than Thomson’s claims, suggesting she didn’t think it was obvious at the time, Gulbrandsen said.

Loring subsequently abandoned that patent application, Simpson said. One of Trounson’s three embryonic stem cell patent applications was granted and the other two are pending, according to the patent office Web site.

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