LONDON — Dolly the sheep, Gene the bull and a pig known as 'The Man' might sound like the cast of a Disney animation. Instead, the three are the unlikely stars of a high-profile and potentially far-reaching debate over who should own the US patents to certain aspects of animal cloning technology.

The dispute, involving the three US biotech firms Geron Corporation, Advanced Cell Technology and Infigen Inc, centers on who was first to invent nuclear transfer technology — the process by which cloned mammals are produced. Each company believes it has a valid claim and the issue is important because, at stake is the highly lucrative opportunity for licensing the technology to authorized users. Now the US Patent and Trademark Office has the unpalatable task of deciding who's right. It has issued two 'declarations of interference ' concerning certain patents. This means that it has initiated proceedings...

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