On Campus

U.S. uni holds on to 2 more stem cell patents

Patent office gives nod to University of Wisconsin

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has upheld a second and a third University of Wisconsin-Madison patent covering embryonic stem cell research at the school.In rulings made public Tuesday, Federal examiners confirmed two patents for scientist James Thomson’s work on isolating embryonic stem cells of primates and humans. The patent office last month upheld another patent stemming from the work, but that ruling can be appealed.

Thomson in the 1990s became the first researcher to isolate the embryonic stem cells of primates and humans, which have great medical potential because they can turn into any type of cell in the body.

Two consumer groups and some scientists had said Thomson’s work was obvious, given previous research on animals, and therefore ineligible to be patented. The examiners rejected that argument in the latest rulings, which cannot be appealed.

All three of the patents – issued in 1995, 1998 and 2001 – are held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a non-profit that manages the university’s patents.

The rulings mean the foundation will continue to control primary intellectual property rights to embryonic stem cell research in the United States. If that research leads to successful medical products or procedures before the patents expire in 2015, the school could win royalties.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the Public Patent Foundation, which asked the patent office to throw out the patents in 2006, argued that their enforcement slowed U.S. stem cell research and drove some investment overseas.

The foundation agreed last year to waive some fees to encourage more industry-sponsored research and allow researchers to share their cells for free.

The foundation’s stem cell affiliate has shipped cells to more than 560 researchers around the world since 1999. A vial of six million stem cells now costs about $500 for academic researchers.

-with a report from CP

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