In what may be just one of many challenges to patents based on “products of nature” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Myriad decision, two nonprofit groups are challenging a key embryonic stem cell patent owned by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), and have asked a federal appeals court to invalidate it.
The New York-based Public Patent Foundation — also a challenger in the Myriad case — and California-based Consumer Watchdog had filed a previous unsuccessful challenge in 2006 over WARF’s three key embryonic stem cell patents. The latest salvo is being taken to the federal appeals court, and the Myriad decision appears to have given the effort new legs.
“WARF’s broad patent on all human embryonic stem cells is invalid for a number of reasons,” says Dan Ravicher, founder of the Public Patent Foundation, “and we are confident the Court of Appeals will agree.”
The two nonprofits content that all researchers should have total access to embryonic stem cells, which scientists believe could help treat many diseases, and that stem cells are found in nature and therefore cannot be patented.
According to Jean Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Institute, “human embryonic stem cells hold great promise for advancing human health, and no one has the ethical right to own them.”
WARF is required to respond to the nonprofits’ appeal by August 15th. If the court finds the patent to be invalid, some of the companies that have licensed stem cell technologies from WARF might be able to ask for their money back. “It would send signals for others related to stem cell patents,” John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s stem cell project.
WARF has not exactly been stingy with its stem cell IP, despite the challenger’s claims that research is being thwarted by its patent monopoly. In 2008 as part of the previous challenge, WARF report having negotiated more than 30 embryonic stem cell licenses with more than 20 companies, and had granted research licenses to more than 900 academic institutions.