Human embryonic stem cells
In a recent decision involving a controversial patent granted to Edinburgh University and Stem Cell Sciences (the "Edinburgh Patent"), the European Patent Office (EPO) has affirmed that patents may not be granted for inventions which encompass human embryos.
The Edinburgh patent was directed to "methods of using genetic engineering to isolate stem cells - including embryonic stem cells - from more differentiated cells in a cell culture in order to obtain pure stem cell cultures". Public concern regarding the patent apparently centred on whether the patent extended to humans.
Under European law, the use of human embryos for commercial or industrial purposes is excluded from patentability.
On the basis of amendments filed by the patentees during proceedings before the EPO, the patent no longer covers human or animal embryonic stem cells. However, it is still directed to modified human and animal stem cells other than embryonic stem cells.
The Opposition Division of the EPO reported that the patent had never encompassed the cloning of humans or animals and that long before the end of the opposition period, the patentees had voluntarily limited the patent to exclude human germ-line intervention.
Further details regarding the "Edinburgh Patent" may be viewed at: www.european-patent-office.org/news/pressrel/2002_07_24_e.htmBaldwins is a leading intellectual property law firm.