Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ruling Endangers $3.2 Million WARF Cash Stream

One commentator said that the WARF patent ruling "marks a welcome turning point in the battle against the unnecessary and unproductive privatization of mankind's quest to understand the natural universe."

Another called it a "victory for the patent law freedom fighters."

But in the Wisconsin State Journal, reporter David Wahlberg, said it could cut off the spigot that has poured $3.2 million into the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. He was the only reporter to identify the cash flow from the ESC patents.

It was all part of the news coverage today of ruling by the federal Patent Office concerning WARF's ESC patents. (For coverage of the issue on Monday see the earlier items below.)

Wahlberg quoted Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, as saying,
"Although these patents aren't dead, they have been diagnosed with severe cancer."
Ravicher's group and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights were the two organizations that challenged the WARF patents, which remain in place pending an appeal by WARF.

Walhberg said,
"The patents have brought in at least $3.2 million to WARF and could net much more money before they expire in 2015. Companies wanting to study the cells must buy licenses costing $75,000 to $400,000, though since January, WARF waives the fees if the research is conducted at universities or by nonprofit groups."
Merrill Goozner, writing on the Huffington Post, called the patent ruling a "turning point." Goozner, who is with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, continued,
"Discovering human embryonic stem cells, which have been around since man first walked the earth, is more like Isaac Newton discovering gravity than the Wright Brothers building the first airplane.

"The Public Patent Foundation and the California Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which challenged the Thompson patents, have provided a valuable service for the entire science community. Unfortunately, the PTO ruling relied on the traditional tenets of patent law. The examiners, upon reexamination, claimed the patent was obvious based on previous papers that had appeared in the literature. Obviousness and previous publication are cause for rejecting a patent application.

"WARF's top officer immediately restaked their claim on those grounds.
Goozner continued:
"Basic science that may ultimately lead to useful products should be free and open to all who would build those useful products. Its inventors should not be allowed to become toll collectors on the road to innovation. Hopefully, the PTO decision yesterday is the first step on the road back to a reasonable standard for establishing where basic science ends and commercial invention begins."
Andrew Leonard, writing on Salon.com, declared that the "patent law freedom fighters" had won.

Terri Somers of the San Diego Union Tribune quoted Cathryn Campbell, an intellectual-property lawyer with Needle and Rosenberg, as saying it is significant that the patent office went beyond the cases cited by the challengers and found two more examples of prior science in the area.

Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News touched on the impact on Geron, a California stem cell company that helped finance the research. Johnson wrote:
"If the patents are rejected permanently, Geron wouldn't have to pay license fees to use the technology, said David Greenwood, Geron's executive vice president and chief financial officer. And while Geron would lose its exclusive right to the technology, the company has other stem-cell licensing rights and patents that give it an edge on other stem-cell companies, Greenwood said."
Geron's stock dropped 3.64 percent on Tuesday, closing at $7.15 in above average volume. The stock has ranged from $5.66 to $10.00 over the last 12 months.

Missing from today's coverage was the Wall Street Journal, which only carried a blog item based on the New York Times story (see the item below from Monday on that.)

Here are links to other stories: Associated Press, Ipbiz blog, Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sacramento Bee. The San Francisco Chronicle carried the AP story. Sphere: Related Content

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