News that the patent office has upheld the final two of three patents covering the derivation and use of embryonic stem cells held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The topic generated more buzz when the first, and reportedly least important, patent was upheld. (See our blog.)
During the re-examination, all three patents were modified in ways that narrowed their scope, and WARF lost its eligibility to claim certain damages, but most of the patent claims in 780 and 806 have been upheld.
WTN also quotes WARF officials saying that the ruling was good news for biotech investors:
Gulbrandsen also said that if the patent ruling had gone the other way, it would have had ramifications beyond WARF, especially given the many patents issued for other biological material and cells. “It would be saying that very little is patentable in the technology area due to the obviousness issues,” he said. “In this environment, people are worried enough about investing due to the credit crunch.”
The patent challengers say that the patents have limted investment in stem cell technologies that their efforts have already succeeded because WARF is being more generous in supplying embryonic stem cell lines and licenses.
What I did not see was looking outside the US; both Singapore and the UK are gearing up to supply embryonic stem cell lines that could, when differentiated, be used in clinical trials. The patent situation on induced pluripotent stem cells (differentiated cells treated to behave like embryonic stem cells) will be much more open, since multiple methods seem to work on the cells and more than one group of scientists have reported them at about the same time.