Monday, May 03, 2010

WARF Loses Latest Round on Challenge to hESC Patents

Two watchdog groups said today they have scored a “major victory for unfettered scientific research” in a case involving a WARF patent on human embryonic stem cells.

Consumer Watchdog
of Santa Monica, Ca., and the Public Patent Foundation of New York City filed the challenges to the WARF patents on work by Jamie Thomson of the University of Wisconsin.

The groups said in a news release that federal patent regulators have “agreed with the groups that the creation of human embryonic stem cell lines was obvious in the light of work that had been done in other species. In order to obtain a patent, work must be both new and non-obvious.”

WARF, which can appeal the decision, released the following statement.
“WARF has been invited by the Board of Patent Appeals to continue prosecution of this application and plans to do so and vigorously pursue these claims with the patent office. This decision regarding ‘913 does not affect the patent office’s 2008 decision to reaffirm WARF’s two most important base stem cell patents for primate and human embryonic stem cells, ‘780 and ‘806. These reaffirmed patents are not eligible for further appeal in this reexamination process.”
Geron Corp., of Menlo Park, Ca., which holds a license on the patent, said the decision will not “impact” the firm's “dominant human embryonic stem cell patent position.”

The 2006 challenge to the WARF patents was supported by Alan Trounson, then connected to Monash University but now president of the California stem cell agency, Douglas Melton and Chad Cowan of Harvard and Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Scripps.

Loring said,
“This is great news for medical research. Human embryonic stem cells hold great promise for advancing human health, and no one has the ethical right to own them.”
The challenge involved three patents. Federal officials originally ruled unfavorably.

The Consumer Watchdog news release said,
“Under current patent law only one of the three (earfier) patent rulings could be appealed by the two groups.  That was the patent rejected by the Board of Appeals and Interferences. However, said the groups, the latest ruling by the Board of Appeals is a strong decision that could set a precedent leading to the revocation of the other two patents as well.

“The two public interest groups noted that the original three patent challenges  had already improved the situation for stem cell researchers; shortly after the PTO launched its initial re-examinations in 2006 at the groups’ request,  WARF announced a substantial easing of its licensing requirements.

“'WARF executives were acting like arrogant bullies blinded by dollar signs,' said (John M.)  Simpson (of Consumer Watchdog). 'Our challenges prompted a more co-operative stance towards the stem cell research community on their part.'”

“Both Consumer Watchdog and the Public Patent Foundation stressed that while University of Wisconsin researcher James Thomson deserved acclaim for his research that isolated human stem cells, important scientific accomplishments are not necessarily patentable.  They said one of the main reasons he was able to derive a human stem cell line was because he had access to human embryos and financial support that other researchers did not have.”
Geron issued a news release on the decision. The company said,
"'This is not a final rejection of the patent claims,' noted David J. Earp, J.D., Ph.D., Geron's chief patent counsel and senior vice president of business development. 'We are confident that WARF will make a strong case in support of the patentability of these claims in continued examination.'"

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