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Discredited cloning technology patented in Australia

6 October 2008
Appeared in BioNews 478

The Australian Patent Office, IP Australia, are expected to grant a patent to internationally disgraced South Korean Scientist Hwang Woo-Suk for his human cloning technology which he fraudulently claimed led to false scientific achievements in 2005. Hwang is one of 18 researchers named on the patent application lodged in eleven countries by Hwang's team six months after his work was discredited, in June 2006. Most countries rejected the application, but patents are pending in the US, Canada, India and China.

David Johnson, acting commissioner of patents for IP Australia explained, 'There is no statutory basis to refuse to grant a patent on the basis that the scientific data in a patent application is a misrepresentation or fraudulently obtained.'

The Australian legal test is whether the technology is new, involves an inventive step, fully described and adequately defined. A patent is not granted on the basis of utility - whether the technology performs as it claims - and Australia is one of the few countries that do not require authors to sign a statement of truth in relation to their data. Only the Courts have the power to revoke a patent.

In 2004, Hwang's team announced the creation of the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cell-line (ES cell) and, in 2005, reported in the journal Science the derivation of a further 11 cell-lines, genetically matched to specific patients, a breakthrough which if genuine could pave the way for regenerative medicine, whereby healthy tissue and organs are re-grown from a patient's own cells. Both achievements were later discovered to have been faked.

Hwang publicly apologised but always maintained that the technique was valid and he had been deceived by junior researchers. Now banned from performing human cloning research, Hwang now focuses his research on animal cloning, where he has announced several major breakthroughs, all of which have been publically verified by experts.

David Earp, chief patent lawyer at the biopharmaceutical company 'Geron', believes that Australia should reject the patent because they already own the patent for the Dolly cloning technique and all its applications including embryonic stem cells. Although it is nonetheless expected to be granted, Johnson stresses, 'IP Australia is not endorsing the research that underpins the patent'. The impact of the patent is unclear. Some stem cell biologists speculate that Australia may want to patent the technology because new techniques are far more expensive. In September, officials licensed the first Australian group to conduct similar human therapeutic cloning research at Sydney IVF.

Clone row scientist to get patent
The Press Association |  22 September 2008
Disgraced scientist seeks clone patent
The Sydney Morning Herald |  24 September 2008
Hwang work granted patent
Nature |  1 October 2008
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