Sunday, December 25, 2005

It takes more than patents for innovation to occur

An article by Tom Still correctly differentiates the act of "getting a patent" from the result of effecting change ("innovating") and suggests the state of Wisconsin needs to get more active in the latter. Perhaps some intellectual property professors should take note.

From Still's article:

Why aren’t more stem cell companies taking root in Wisconsin? There may be several reasons:

• Virtually all of the people involved in stem cell science in Wisconsin are proud “lab rats,” meaning they would prefer to remain on the research side and not engage in the uncertainties of the marketplace. They’re not business people and they’re smart enough to admit it. But their discoveries need to get into the hands of experienced business executives (now the case with Thomson’s CDI) so their discoveries can be pulled into the marketplace. Cezar is an exception to the Wisconsin rule; she’s as interested in market applications as she is in the core research.

• Some states and nations have a more aggressive culture when it comes to commercializing science. Wisconsin is a leader in producing patents, but fairly mediocre when it comes to turning those inventions into companies, jobs and profits. California is an example of both: Voters there have authorized up to $3 billion over 10 years to invest in stem cell research and commercialization. While lawsuits have slowed California’s public investment, private investment there has been strong.

• Wisconsin politicians have sent some discouraging signals. Legislative efforts to enact research controls that go beyond federal limits haven’t succeeded, but scientists and investors worry about what will happen if there’s a new governor in the Capitol’s East Wing. Governor Jim Doyle has already vetoed one bill that threatened stem-cell research and vows to keep doing so. But he must stand for re-election in 2006. Cezar, for one, says she would leave Wisconsin if the Legislature enacted bans on stem-cell research.

Wisconsin is fortunate be where scientists began unlocking the secrets of human embryonic stem cells. The world is catching up, however, and is now running ahead when it comes to exploring commercial opportunities. Letting others beat us to the punch on stem cell commerce would be like giving away Stephen Babcock’s milk butterfat test in 1890 or failing to follow up on Harry Steenbock’s Vitamin D discoveries in the 1920s. Wisconsin capitalized on major academic breakthroughs in the past; it should do so again.


Around the world, Cezar noted, there are about 70 companies doing significant stem-cell research in an effort to move discoveries to market. Those companies are engaged in drug discovery, in examining specific therapies, and in basic research about how cells work.A number of clinical studies are beginning or soon will begin in areas ranging from spinal cord injuries to chronic diseases.

Geron has recently announced plans to move from working with animal embryonic stem cells to tests on human embryonic stem cells.


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