(Also posted on IPmed)
A request to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to reexamine 3 patents relating to stem cell technology has been granted.
The requests came from California-based consumer group, Foundation Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FCTR), and were filed in July on the Foundation's behalf by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT).
The patents are owned by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) whose researchers include James Thomson (pictured at left), who led the team which, in 1998, made the first successful isolation of human embryonic stem cells. Thomson later founded Cellular Dynamics International (CDI), a private biotechnology company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Last year, the State of Wisconsin granted CDI a US$1M Technology Development Grant and a US$1M Technology Development Loan.
The 3 patents in question are US Patent 5,843,780 (780 communication); 6, 200, 806 (806 communication); and 7, 029, 913 (communication forthcoming). The requests from FCTR were accompanied by the declaration of Jeanne F Loring, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Burnham Institute, and include references to prior art not considered at the time the patent was granted. This raises a "substantial new question" (SNQ) of patentability and grounds for a complete reexamination of the patent claims on the basis of prior art.
The requests also included reference to public harm, but the USPTO communication is clear that this is beyond the scope of reexamination. Nevertheless, John M Simpson, Stem Cell Project Director of FTCR, has welcomed the announcement and condemned WARF's patent policy, described in the press release as "WARF's aggressive assertion of patents." Simpson claims that WARF has "a history of putting profits before public benefit." An earlier press release quotes the Juvenile Diabetes Research Association (JDRF) as saying that WARF patents pose a "major inhibition to productive scientific research."
Should WARF really have a monopoly on the toolbox?