Wisconsin stem cell patent refused by European agency
The European patent agency refused to give the University of Wisconsin rights to an invention for the creation and use of embryonic stem cells, saying it won’t patent anything requiring "the use and destruction of human embryos."
The ruling by an appeals board of the European Patent Office may apply to as many as 200 similar inventions pending in Europe, Rainer Osterwalder, a spokesman for the Munich-based agency, said today. While such patents may be possible in the U.S., the board’s decision shows “very clearly” they aren’t in Europe.
The office’s Enlarged Board of Appeal said its ruling doesn’t concern “the patentability in general of inventions relating to human stem cells or human stem-cell cultures.”
“This is a blow for the Wisconsin Foundation, not for the field in general,” said Stem Cell Sciences Plc Chief Executive Officer Alastair Riddell in an interview today. “This clarifies the situation.”
The same patents were upheld in March by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The University of Wisconsin in Madison licenses the use of the cell lines and the method for creating them to researchers for a fee through a non-profit foundation.
“The more restrictive patent situation compared with the U.S. contrasts sharply with the availability of funding and a regulatory framework for permitting stem-cell research that exists in certain European countries, notably the U.K.,” said Penny Gilbert, a patent lawyer at Powell Gilbert in London.
Stem Cell Sciences, based in Cambridge, England, recently agreed to supply Pfizer Inc. with stem cells and research technology. Drugmakers including Pfizer are interested in research using stem cells derived from adult tissue.
Osterwalder said any pending inventions that require the use of human embryos and are waiting for the EPO’s approval, “can’t be patented.”
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation said in a statement on its Web site that it’s “considering various options in response” and that the decision doesn’t affect its U.S. patents.
“We have more than 40 issued patents directed to stem cells in 12 countries with more than 200 cases pending all over the world,” said WARF General Counsel Michael Falk. “This decision represents a ruling in just one of these cases and in just one jurisdiction.”
Embryonic stem cells are like blank slates that have the potential to mature into any type of cell or tissue. They are derived from days-old embryos that are developed in a laboratory. Scientists think research using the cells may lead to cures for conditions including spinal-cord injury.
The European Patent Office issues patents recognized in as many as 34 European countries. The agency acts independently of the European Union.
The patent number is EP 0770125. (Bloomberg)
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