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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

The California-based group challenging the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation‘s stem cell patents wants WARF managing director Carl Gulbrandsen to step down from a U.S. Patent Public Advisory Committee until the case is settled.

Gulbrandsen was appointed in 2005 as one of 12 members of the committee, which advises the patent office on matters of administration, policy and budget. Another 12-member panel advises the government on trademark issues.

While the panel is only advisory, John Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said there is an obvious conflict with Gulbrandsen’s position and pending stem cell decisions.

“As WARF‘s managing director you clearly have a vested interest in the Patent Office’s operations as it contemplates rejecting those over-reaching patents,” Simpson said in a letter to Gulbrandsen distributed to the media this week.

But WARF spokesman Andy Cohn dismissed the concerns, calling it another effort by Simpson to drum up publicity for his case. He noted that other members of the advisory panel groups do business with the patent office.

Cohn said the panel represents small, medium and large companies, as well as the nonprofit sector. Gulbrandsen was appointed to represent nonprofit groups like WARF.

“You may rest assured that Carl Gulbrandsen, the PPAC and its members, the USPTO and the U.S. Department of Commerce have always and will continue to act within the boundaries of the statute and ethical constraints,” said Cohn in a statement.

The Public Advisory Committees were created by the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 to advise the government on the management of the patent and the trademark operations.

The U.S. Patent Office is re-examining three patents held by WARF on human embryonic stem cells after a challenge filed last summer by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation.

On March 30, the patent office preliminarily rejected all claims of the WARF patents, the first time in the group’s 82-year history a patent was rejected.

WARF has said it will appeal that ruling, maintaining the work done by UW researcher Jamie Thomson was groundbreaking and worthy of patent protection. The challenge maintains that Thomson’s work to isolate stem cell lines was obvious in light of previous scientific research, making his work unpatentable.

In either case, Simpson said Gulbrandsen should not be involved in anything related to the patent office until a final decision is reached.

“While the cases are pending it is inappropriate for you to have such direct access to the highest levels of PTO decision making,” said Simpson. “I am surprised that you have not already stepped down and urge you to do so immediately.” While not the largest source of royalty revenue for WARF, stem cell patents hold great economic potential for the organization, which returns some $60 million in proceeds to the UW each year.

The groups challenging the patents said their dubious validity is underscored by the fact that no other country in the world honors them. As a result, U.S. researchers have sent research monies abroad where they can avoid paying royalties to WARF.

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