The New Biology
Edited by Matthew Rimmer and Alison McLennan
Chapter 9: Stem Cell Patents: Looking for Serenity
Amina Agovic Human embryonic stem cell research is the subject of great hope and controversy. International and regional policies on stem cell research are complex and lack harmonisation. Recently, however, the policy battles in respect of innovation in stem cell research have begun to shift from controversies within research to skirmishes over patent law and related intellectual property rights. Human embryonic stem cells are generally harvested from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst-stage embryo and this necessitates that an embryo is destroyed. This inevitable destruction of the human embryo is a major cause of controversy in relation to not only the research itself, but also the patenting of research results. Moreover, this embryo destruction was a primary cause for the European Patent Ofﬁce (EPO) to reject patent applications such as the Edinburgh (T1079/03), the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) (T1374/04) and the CIT (T522/04). In the United States, ever since the isolation of the ﬁrst human embryonic stem cell line in 1998, many scientists have increasingly complained about the hindering effects of the WARF stem cell patents on possibly life-saving research involving human embryonic stem cells. Now, the latest ruling on the American WARF patent has the potential to alter the patentability criteria in life sciences. Both the European and the American WARF cases illustrate the ethical conundrums surrounding patenting human embryonic stem cells. As a result, ethical tensions surrounding patentability of human embryonic stem cells require a better understanding of patentability of human embryonic stem cells in...
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