Tech-Transfer Arm of U. of Wisconsin Retreats From Licensing Demands on Stem-Cell Patents

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

The foundation that manages the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s patents on groundbreaking discoveries on embryonic stem cells is backing away from many of the aggressive licensing demands it had been making on academic scientists.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which had angered many scientists with its tactics (The Chronicle, September 15, 2006), said it hoped three changes, announced late Monday, would improve the climate for embryonic-stem-cell research in the United States.

Under its new policy, the foundation, which is known as WARF, will no longer require academic institutions and other nonprofit organizations to obtain a license from it for industry-financed research that involves scientific practices covered by the patents. Many universities and organizations had objected to such a demand, saying it was discouraging companies from stepping in to support such research at a time when the opportunities to obtain federal support remain sharply limited by a Bush administration policy.

Companies will still need a license from WARF if they want to bring the research into their own laboratories or to commercialize a university invention.

WARF also announced on Monday that it was simplifying the procedures that govern the transfer of embryonic-stem-cell lines to other academic and commercial laboratories. Many researchers had complained that the foundation’s old procedures were cumbersome and intrusive, and that they made it difficult for scientists to collaborate easily, even within their own institutions or departments.

Finally, WARF officials announced that they would no longer push for an agency that will finance stem-cell studies in California to obtain licenses for or share profits from that research. The agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is expected to begin providing money soon from billions of dollars that voters approved in 2004 for stem-cell research. Foundation officials previously had contended that the agency was as obligated to pay licensing fees as companies were — a stance that set off a minor war of words between officials in Wisconsin and California.

The foundation announced the changes in a news release that included comments of praise from technology-transfer directors at a number of institutions who had publicly and privately criticized WARF over the past several months, including officials at Stanford and Yale Universities and the University of Washington.

WARF‘s policies governing embryonic-stem-cell patents have changed over time to make it “easier for scientists to move the technology forward,” Carl E. Gulbrandsen, the foundation’s managing director, said in the news release. “These latest changes reflect an ongoing dialogue with researchers and university administrators across the country.”

Officials of two of the groups that have asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine and revoke the university’s patents said on Monday that WARF‘s actions were a step in the right direction but “don’t go far enough.” They urged the foundation to abandon its patents altogether.

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