Friday, January 26, 2007

A Look Behind the WARF Patent Announcement

The folks who challenged the WARF stem cell patents and triggered a fresh wave of negative publicity for one of Wisconsin's more sacrosanct institutions deserve credit for this week's surprising announcement concerning more liberal access to the critical keys for ESC research.

That credit is deserved despite WARF's predictable assertion that the organization really has not changed its position. Additionally, part of the backdrop to its announcement seems to involve the abrupt departure last year of WARF's longtime counsel, Beth Donley.

Previously WARF had taken a hardline position on its ESC cell patents, serving notice that it would defend them aggressively. Donley was in the forefront of that position, which is where an attorney should be when her job is to defend an organization's IP. But the ultimate question for WARF really was whether it wanted to appear to be standing in the way of research that could benefit millions of ailing persons all because WARF was grubbing for dollars. We suspect that was a position that made WARF's directors uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, Andrew Cohn, government relations manager for WARF, in response to questions from the California Stem Cell Report, said:
"Our position has not changed. People completely overreacted to comments made (last spring) by a WARF staff person (Donley) in response to a question. They did not report the second sentence of her response which was WARF has no intention of interfering with the CIRM grant process. The policy announced this week was just a clarification on a policy that was misunderstood many people."
Of course, if WARF wanted to clarify its position it could have made its announcement concerning its patents last spring instead of this week.

Following Donley's statement last year, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights in Santa Monica, Ca.; Jeanne Loring, a stem cell scientist with the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Ca., and the Public Patent Foundation legally challenged the WARF patents, triggering a spate of articles that did not portray WARF as a benign non-profit.

The Simpson alliance is still not satisfied with WARF's position and plans to continue their efforts.

The Sacramento Bee said that Simpson, Loring and the Patent Foundation deserve credit for WARF's "change." It also noted, in an editorial, the benefits of having a friendly critic (Simpson
"The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- apparently unwilling to pick a fight with WARF -- hasn't joined the patent challenge. Now, ironically, it may benefit from the activism of Simpson and Loring."
In addition to Simpson's coalition, others do not think WARF went far enough. Writing in The Scientist, Alison McCook said,
"Jonathan Auerbach, president of GlobalStem, Inc., agreed that the patents remain a significant 'roadblock' for research. The changes to the licensing terms don't affect in-house industry research, and if GlobalStem receives, for example, an NIH small business grant of $100,000 for human ES cell research, the company would still have to turn over a sizeable proportion -- perhaps in the range of $75,000 -- to WARF in licensing fees, Auerbach noted. Loosening the restrictions 'is progress, but it's not enough,' he told The Scientist. "
Aaron Lorenzo of Bioworld Today additionally reported:
"Some industry sources told BioWorld Today that the new policy doesn't go far enough - WARF said companies still will need a license when they want to conduct internal research, which potentially is debatable given recent Supreme Court rulings on patent law, or develop a product for the market. But those same critics nonetheless feel that the overall bent of the change in attitude represents a positive step."
As for Donley's role in all this, scuttlebutt is floating around in the stem cell world that one of the reasons for her departure from WARF involved a re-examination of the foundation's position on stem cell patents. One report has it that she gave only three days notice.

Whatever the reasons for its announcement, WARF is doing the right thing, and it should receive credit for moving in the right direction. So should Simpson and company for lighting the way. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Don Reed5:03 AM

    Thanks for your continuing coverage on the WARF issue, which becomes increasingly important every day, and will continue to do as the "who owns what" controversy could slow or block important research... don