Monday, June 09, 2014

WARF Triumphs in Latest Chapter of hESC Patent Challenge

A California-based effort to ease patent restrictions on the research use of human embryonic stem cells last week suffered a severe blow when a federal court of appeals ruled in favor of a Wisconsin organization known as WARF.

At the heart of the matter is the question of who profits from stem cell research along with whether the patents stifle scientific research.

The ruling came Wednesday in a legal action brought by Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica. The effort was supported by the former president of California stem cell agency, Alan Trounson, and Jeanne Loring, head of the stem cell program at Scripps in La Jolla, Ca. Doug Melton and Chad Cowan, both of Harvard, also backed the challenge.

The lawsuit was filed in a case involving the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and involved work by Jamie Thomson of the University of Wisconsin and of UC Santa Barbara. Consumer Watchdog said that Thomson deserved credit for being first to isolate and maintain human embryonic stem cells. But the organization said that “his achievement was not the result of his having created a patentable invention.” Consumer Watchdog's brief said that the work involved was “obvious.” One of the main reasons for Thomson’s achievement, the organization said was that “he had access to human embryos and financial support that other researchers did not have.”

A federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., said Consumer Watchdog had no standing to sue to overturn WARF patents.

The court said that because Consumer Watchdog “has not identified a particularized, concrete interest in the patentability" of the work or shown “any injury in lacks standing to appeal” earlier decisions in favor of WARF.

It is unclear what the next step is in the eight-year-old dispute. John M. Simpson, the stem cell spokesman for the Consumer Watchdog, said,
"We are reviewing the decision and considering our options.  It's important to remember that because of our challenge WARF's claims were substantially narrowed as the patent went through the PTO (patent office) process."

WARF has not responded to a request for comment from the California Stem Cell Report.

Consumer Watchdog is represented in the matter by the Public Patent Foundation of New York, which successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last year that genes cannot be patented because they occur naturally in nature.  

Here is a link to legal documents and other material in the case.  Last week's decision can be found below. 

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