Stem Cell Patents To Be Reviewed
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to re-examine three patents that cover human embryonic stem cell research, the New York Times reports (Pollack, New York Times, 10/4).
The Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and New York-based Public Patent Foundation in July petitioned the federal government to revoke three patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, saying that the patents could hinder research funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The WARF patents involve a method for isolating human embryonic stem cells (California Healthline, 7/19). James Thomson, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, conducted the research and is credited with first isolating the cells.
WARF issues free licenses and charges $500 for cells for academic researchers wishing to use the patented methods. The foundation charges companies $75,000 to $400,000 for the licenses, depending on the size of the company and the terms of the agreement (New York Times, 10/4).
Most agreements also require companies to make royalty payments to WARF for proceeds from any marketable treatments that result from the research (Downing, Sacramento Bee, 10/4).
WARF earlier this year announced it would seek a share of the revenue if patented discoveries are made using Proposition 71 funds. Voters approved Proposition 71 in 2004 to provide up to $300 million annually for a decade to fund stem cell research (California Healthline, 7/19).
FTCR and the Public Patent Foundation say that Thompson's research should not have been patented because a previous patent and three scientific papers by other researchers already had described how to derive embryonic stem cells in various animals, such as sheep, mice and pigs.
USPTO said the information presented in the groups' request creates substantial new questions about the patentability of the research (New York Times, 10/4).
Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, said the groups expect a decision in several months but that the appeals process could take years (Foley, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/4).
USPTO spokesperson Brigid Quinn said about 12% of re-examinations brought by a third party result in the invalidation of all patent claims. Smaller modifications are made in about 59% of such re-examinations, Quinn said (New York Times, 10/4).