Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Speaking of Stem Cells
Cheese State Takes a Potential Hit from the Feds

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

Preliminary decision against UW may set up years-long legal battle

Posted: April 2, 2007

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a preliminary rejection of three key stem-cell patents owned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, setting up a legal battle with potentially big economic and psychological ramifications for the state's biotech economy.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the licensing arm of the university, vowed to appeal the ruling in every venue at its disposal, even if the dispute drags out in federal courts for years.

The agency acted in response to complaints from two public-interest foundations, which alleged in July that the patents are so broadly written that they give WARF potential to reap royalties from a broad range of stem cell-related treatments. In their complaint, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, Calif., and the Public Patent Foundation in New York also argued that UW-Madison researcher James Thomson was not the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells, therefore diluting the propriety of his 1998 work.

The groups say WARF's control of the technology discourages potentially lifesaving research by imposing licensing costs and drives stem-cell work abroad to places where WARF's patents are not recognized.

At stake for WARF is a potential loss of royalty revenue if both the agency and courts uphold the preliminary rejection.

A repeal also could dampen the excitement associated with research that has drawn hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and research funding to Madison, elevating the university town to one of the world's pre-eminent biotech hubs.

John Simpson, an official at the Santa Monica consumer rights group, was jubilant over the preliminary outcome.

"This is a great day for scientific research," Simpson said in a statement released late Monday. "The patents should never have been issued in the first place."

The final outcome is far from decided. The agency gave WARF two months to prepare a response.

There's no doubt the case will attract attention until it's resolved.

Goaded by Gov. Jim Doyle, Madison has made biotech the center of its economic growth strategy, putting it in competition with biotech centers from Boston to Singapore. Californians voted in November to fund $3 billion of embryonic stem cell research in their state over the next decade.

And embryonic stem cells by their nature have become lightning rods of controversy. Research in many cases means destruction of human embryos, raising heated arguments over ethical issues.

Mr. Bonzo thanks a colleague for calling this article to his attention. WARF - the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation - over the years has been a major contributor to scientific research funding at Wisconsin. The financial implications of invalidating the stem cell patents are very serious. The question of whether patents are good for innovation as well as the effect of the Bayh-Dole amendment on university research will be discussed in the future.

a stunned Mr. Bonzo

No comments: