Page URL:

Human embryonic stem cell patent challenged

8 July 2013
Appeared in BioNews 712

Two US public interest groups have asked a federal appeals court to hear a challenge of a patent over human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).

Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit consumer advocacy organisation based in Santa Monica, California, along with lawyers from the Public Patent Foundation (PPF), lodged an appeal from a decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to uphold the patent, assigned to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

The patent is over three claims to in vitro cultures of hESCs based on the research of Professor James Thompson, who is listed as the sole inventor.

Consumer Watchdog's opening brief claims that WARF’s patent 'has put a severe burden on taxpayer-funded research in the state of California'. It states the patent 'gives WARF the potential to completely preempt all uses of hESCs, including particularly for scientific and medical research'.

The groups initially challenged the three patents held by WARF in 2006 through a process called re-examination. During this process, third parties can ask the USPTO to revoke a patent. Although they were initially successful at having the patent declared invalid, the USPTO later upheld the patent, albeit with some changes.

The appeal brief cites the US Supreme Court ruling in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, where the court struck down a patent for the BRCA gene on the basis that genes cannot be patented.

Consumer Watchdog claims that the nature of the patents at issue are too broad and that 'such broad claims to products of nature are not patent eligible'. It asserts that the patent claims cover hESCs that are 'not markedly different from naturally occurring hESCs'.

'WARF did not create or alter the properties inherent in stem cells any more than Myriad created or altered the genetic information encoded in the DNA it claimed', the brief states.

Dr Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Institute has also been involved in supporting Consumer Watchdog and PPF since the beginning of the legal process. 'This is an important battle. hESCs hold great promise for advancing human health, and no one has the ethical right to own them', she said.

WARF declined to comment on the challenge, saying that it needs to review the filing with its attorneys, GenomeWeb reported on Wednesday. Carl Gulbrandsen, director of WARF, has previously called the Myriad ruling 'unfortunate', saying it threatened to invalidate the existing patents of important medical products and could discourage research on future genetically-based medical therapies.

Consumer Watchdog, PPF Seek Invalidation of WARF's Stem Cell Patent
Genome Web (subscription required) |  3 July 2013
Consumer Watchdog, Public Patent Foundation Ask Appeals Court To Reject Key Human Embryonic Stem Cell Patent Held By Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
Market Watch |  2 July 2013
How do UW experts judge today's Supreme Court ruling on gene patenting?
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation |  13 June 2013
WARF stem cell patents challenged in federal court
Wisconsin State Journal |  3 July 2013
14 April 2014 - by Ari Haque 
Several organisations within the scientific community have condemned a recent proposal brought to the European Parliament that seeks to ban funding for embryo research...
29 July 2013 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
A paper in the journal Stem Cell Reports has reignited debate among a section of the stem cell research community. The study calls into question the existence of a type of cell that, if validated, would have great potential for use in regenerative medicine...
15 July 2013 - by Ruth Retassie 
Myriad Genetics is suing two other companies who are offering genetic tests for BRCA1 and BRAC2 gene mutations for patent infringement...
17 June 2013 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
The US Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a number of patent claims made by Myriad Genetics on isolated forms of two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer....
29 April 2013 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's High Court has asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to clarify if human parthenotes fall under the definition of a human embryo for the purposes of patentability...
11 April 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued a preliminary decision rejecting the validity of three existing embryonic stem cell (ESC) patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) at the University of Wisconsin Madison (UW-Madison), where James Thomson led a research team to discover...
17 September 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
American biotech company WiCell, based in Wisconsin, has agreed to help distribute any stem cell lines created using a new, still controversial, technique developed by Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT). The new technique was reported in Nature on 24 August and describes a 'proof of principle' that stem...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.