Friday, April 06, 2007

Fresno Bee editorial on re-exam of WARF patents

The Fort Wayne News Sentinel reprinted an editorial which appeared in The Fresno Bee on Thursday, April 5. Within, there was text:

It should also spark a long-needed debate on the nation's patent laws, which are being abused as researchers and companies expand the frontiers of biomedical research. Patent laws were created to protect true inventions, such as Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. Yet it is doubtful that framers of U.S. patent laws ever intended them to apply to groups of cells, genes and other natural wonders that scientists have "discovered," and will continue to discover, as they try to unlock the mysteries of basic biology.

In the case of the Wisconsin foundation, it has told businesses they cannot work with human embryonic stem cells unless they pay fees of $75,000 to $400,000 each. Academics must pay about $500.

The foundation has also granted an exclusive license to the Geron Corp. to control heart, nerve and pancreatic cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. As the New York Times put it, "Any company wanting to market a treatment for heart attacks, Parkinson's disease or diabetes using human embryonic stem cells would eventually have to come to terms with Geron."

Any potential cures involving stem cells are still years away, and for now, federal funding restrictions have hurt this field far more than the University of Wisconsin's patents. But as more funding becomes available from California's $3 billion stem cell research institute and other sources, the patents stand as a potential obstacle to research. That's why it's refreshing to see the U.S. patent office's preliminary decision.

Nonprofits such as the Public Patent Foundation and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights deserve credit for prompting this patent reconsideration. Ultimately, Congress needs to address the larger issue: Human body parts - including cells, genes and body organs that scientists soon will be growing in laboratories - belong to all of humanity. They should not be patented like light bulbs.

As IPBiz has noted, the referenced "preliminary decision" is a first Office Action. It is premature to assess the consequences of the first Office Action UNTIL WARF responds AND the USPTO acts with knowledge of that response.

It's interesting that the editorial talks about Bell's invention, which is the subject of some controversy.


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