Sunday, April 15, 2007

WARF News and a California, Scientific Perspective

The WARF stem cell fracas has received more attention in the past few days – primarily in Wisconsin where the University of Wisconsin could miss out on millions if its benefactor – WARF – loses its patent fight.

Reporter David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal reviewed the history of WARF and the stakes involved in a piece that noted Vitamin D is the big revenue producer for WARF. Stem cells come in eighth, less than one percent of WARF revenue. Currently WARF, which sprang to life 82 years ago to promote a method of increasing the vitamin D content of food, pumps $60 million annually into UW.

The patent battle had its roots in California, with John M. Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights and Jeanne Loring of the Burnham Institute collaborating with the Public Patent Foundation to challenge WARF's stem cell patents.

Simpson and Loring both had op-ed pieces in Wisconsin newspapers during the past week. Simpson wrote on April 11 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Simpson said that Wisconsin would not lose its stem cell luster even if WARF loses the patent fight.
"Wisconsin will remain a leader in the field because of (James) Thomson and his colleagues' work, and research firms will continue to locate near UW because of the proximity to its vibrant scientific community.

"But officials from a self-serving foundation with its own narrow agenda cannot be allowed to elbow their way to the table by waving undeserved patents that are ultimately detrimental to researchers everywhere."
In a similar piece in the Wisconsin State Journal, Loring wrote:
"Wisconsin’s leadership in stem cell research has nothing to do with these patents. It has everything to do with the admirable talent and dedication of Wisconsin scientists who devote their lives to this work.

"WARF’s executives are understandably unhappy about the patent office’s decision because they think they will lose money. But they could save an enormous amount of money, and gain a great deal of good will, by quietly dropping their claims to human embryonic stem cells and allowing the judgment of the patent office to stand. If they did this, they could be seen as a supporter, not an exploiter, of scientific research."
Finally on the Wisconsin Technology Network, Grady Frenchik and Michael J. Cronin, two Wisconsin attorneys, authored a Q&A on the patent challenge process and possible outcomes. Sphere: Related Content


  1. To move forward to the "Bongso revival" appearing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, one notes an attempt to erode the accomplishments of Thomson.

    For a discussion, see

  2. Of the article by Terri Somers in the San Diego Union-Tribune concerning Bongso and Thomson, Kevin Noonan wrote in Patent Docs:

    Indeed, the article merely establishes once again that the understanding of the scientific and legal issues contained in the popular press is severely wanting, and that the public is in fact less informed, or more misinformed, for their efforts.

    As noted on IPBiz, I wrote a letter (directed both to Somers and to the Union-Tribune) about misleading aspects of the Somers article, but to date have received no response.