Embryonic Stem Cell Patent is to be Reinstated

Although Martin Evans, from Cardiff University, has been attributed with the key discovery of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) in the 1980s, and from which he received a knighthood in 2008, it was only in 1998 that they were actually first isolated from primates.  This step was finally achieved by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, using methods which he protected using three US patents. These have been highly controversial, and were revoked in 2007, following allegations in 2006 that the discoveries were highly derivative of work already published on the isolation of embryonic stem cells in other species.  In addition, the complainants alleged that the the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, ultimate beneficiaries of the patents, had imposed unfair restrictions on use of the cells and were charging unreasonable licensing fees.


The US Patent and Trademark Office have, however, just announced that a single embryonic stem cell patent is to be reinstated.  Just one patent of the three, which protects the intellectual property (IP) regarding embryonic stem cells derived from pre-implantation human embryos, will again be available for protection.  Nevertheless, the original challengers of the patents have declared that they wil appeal this reinstatement, even though the new patenting arrangements will be less limiting to research with embryonic stem cells than was originally the case.


Nick Rhodes