A Dangerous Import

Are ethical objections to patents headed for the US?

Ronald I. Eisenstein
Apr 1, 2006

In 1999, a patent was issued to the University of Edinburgh (EPO Patent No. 0695351) for a method of isolating and/or enriching and/or collectively propagating stem cells. As issued by the European Patent Office, the patent covered all stem cells, including embryonic stem cells. Fourteen parties opposed the patent, including Greenpeace, the Alliance for the Right of Life, and the Green Party of Germany on morality grounds, which is not an avenue for opposition in the United States. Some of the opponents also argued that the granting of the patent should be revoked because of lack of novelty, inventive step (a combination of prior art references that allegedly makes the invention obvious), and sufficiency (the invention as claimed is not sufficiently supported by the specification).

Edinburgh ultimately had to amend its claims to cover only animal stem cells other than embryonic stem cells. The patent office's opposition board found that...