Consumer Groups File Appeal Contesting Stem Cell Research Patent Ruling

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 21, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Consumer Groups File Appeal Contesting Stem Cell Research Patent Ruling

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 21
, 2008

Washington, DC ( — Two consumer groups have filed an appeal with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office contesting its March ruling upholding the exclusive patents for stem cells. The office said the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which holds the original patent on embryonic stem cells, can keep its patents.

The patents cover all embryonic stem cells used in the United States and any scientists or research firms wanting them must pay WARF’s hefty prices for them.

The California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Consumer Watchdog Foundation are the groups behind the lawsuit and it said WARF shouldn’t keep its patents.

They said the creation of human embryonic stem cell lines was obvious in the light of work that had been done in other species. They also said no other country in the world recognizes the patents and, as a result, embryonic stem cell research in the U.S. is hampered as a result.

The groups originally challenged the WARF patents in 2006 and a patent officer examiner narrowed the scope of the patents. WARF subsequently reduced some of its requirements to use the embryonic stem cells.

Dan Ravicher, the director of the Public Patent Foundation, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the decision was just a first step.

"Although we won a substantial victory at the examiner level when WARF was forced to narrow their patent claims, we still believe that even the narrower patent is invalid, and that’s the issue we plan to contest with the PTO’s Board of Appeals," he said.

Some say the battle over embryonic stem cell research funding is the main source of contention in the stem cell research debate. However, for scientists, it’s about patents.

The consumer groups argue the patenting has driven some scientists overseas because they can’t profit from any follow-up work. That say the patents have done more to damage stem cell research in the United States than any lack of state or federal government funding.

Bioethics observer Wesley J. Smith has said the fight over money illustrates a phenomenon that is too little understood.

"Science has become a commercial enterprise–even in the ivory covered walls of the university. The days of ‘publish or perish’ are over. The current mantra is patent or perish," he explained.



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