U.S. government to scrutinize U. Wisconsin stem cell patents

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The Daily Cardinal – University Wire

MADISON, WI — The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced Tuesday that it plans to re-examine patents covering research by stem cell leader and University of Wisconsin at Madison scientist James Thomson and other UW-Madison scientists aresupposedly the first researchers in the world to grow and isolate human embryonic stem cells.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which owns the patents that control the five stem cell lines grown at UW-Madison and the methods used to propagate the cells, is allegedly restricting research in other states, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California-based organization.

Critics have said the patents charge corporate companies up to $400,000 for research license fees to pay for the licenses WARF requires of scientists before their stem cell research proceeds. WARF has said in the past that it would have a right to royalties spurred by corporate stem cell research, if the companies use WARF‘s patented methods.

But according to WiCell Research Institute Executive Director Beth Donley, WARF has given a free license and cells to 324 academic research groups.

“This license enables researchers to patent and publish any discovery they make,” Donley said in a statement.

Donley emphasized WARF‘s openness to scrutiny, stressing that the foundation grants more than 90 percent of re-examination requests.

“We believe this is a politically and financially motivated challenge, to which we will respond in the appropriate legal forum — the United States Patent and Trademark Office,” Donley said, referring to California’s goal to become the national stem cell research leader with its $3 billion grant program, approved in fall 2004.

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