Santa Monica, CA — Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), should resign from the U.S. Patent Public Advisory Committee to avoid a conflict of interest while key stem cell patents are being considered for rejection, consumer advocates said today.
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 (FTCR) and the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT).
In a letter to Gulbrandsen, John M. Simpson, FTCR Stem Cell Project Director wrote:
“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. Already an initial office finding has denied all of your claims. While the cases are pending it is inappropriate for you to have such direct access to the highest levels of PTO decision making.”
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “The Public Advisory Committees for the USPTO were created by statute in the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999 to advise the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO on the management of the patent and the trademark operations.”
Simpson said Gulbrandsen could not serve in his role on the committee objectively while the patents are being re-examined. “I am surprised that you have not already stepped down and urge you to do so immediately,” Simpson wrote.
Copies of the letter were sent to Carlos M. Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce; Jon W. Dudas, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office; and John D. Wiley, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin – Madison.
The patent challenges were filed last July by FTCR and PUBPAT because the three WARF patents were impeding scientific progress and driving vital stem cell research overseas. FTCR and PUBPAT argued that the work done by University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson to isolate stem cell lines was obvious in the light of previous scientific research, making his work unpatentable. Dr. Jeanne Loring of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research filed a statement supporting the challenge. To receive a patent, something must be new, useful and non-obvious. The PTO agreed with the groups.
WARF has two months to respond to the PTO ruling and seek to change it. Third party requests for patent re-examination, like the ones filed by FTCR and PUBPAT, are ultimately successful in having the subject patent either changed or completely revoked roughly 70% of the time.
In the face of the challenges by FTCR and PUBPAT, WARF announced in January that it would ease its licensing requirements on human embryonic stem cells.
The groups said the patents’ 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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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is California’s leading non-profit and non-partisan consumer watchdog group. For more information visit us on the web at: www.ConsumerWatchdog.org. Our stem cell information page is located at: www.StemCellWatch.org.
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is a not-for-profit legal services organization that represents the public’s interests against the harms caused by the patent system, particularly the harms caused by undeserved patents and unsound patent policy. For more information, visit the web at: www.pubpat.org.