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European scientists worry that their research will instead flourish overseas

Embryonic stem cells have shown that they could eventually be very useful in the treatment of a range of currently incurable diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. But such research may be threatened, or even halted, in Europe due to a recent court decision.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to transform into any human body tissue. For instance, earlier this year, the first eye was grown from embryonic stem cells in mice. But to grow these tissues, stem cells must be removed from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, which destroys the embryo, and this has raised ethical questions regarding the process.

Greenpeace in Germany triggered a lawsuit saying that it is unethical to issue a patent based on stem cells from a human embryo that is destroyed afterward.

The Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, ruled in favor of the group. The ruling focused on a technique involving the conversion of human ambryonic stem cells into nerve cells.

"The use of human embryos for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it is patentable," said the European Court of Justice. "But their use for purposes of scientific research is not patentable. A process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented."

The decision has many European researchers outraged. This ruling could either halt stem cell research in Europe or send it overseas.

"This unfortunate decision by the court leaves scientists in a ridiculous position," said Professor Austin Smith of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge. "We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the marketplace where they could be developed into new medicines. One consequence is that the benefits of our research will be reaped in America and Asia."

Source: BBC

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By gamerk2 on 10/19/2011 10:04:42 AM , Rating: 5
A logical patent ruling:

Patenting Stem Cells: Not OK
Patenting Mediacal Techniques that use Stem Cells: OK

A product or technique is patentable, biology is not.

RE: Finally
By hankw on 10/19/2011 10:42:00 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not quite sure I understand the issue here. How does not getting this patent prevent them from continuing their research/work? It seems like this is something that should be shared across all medical communities anyways. Not sure why the patent is that important unless they want some exclusive rights for purely monetary gain.

RE: Finally
By zmatt on 10/19/2011 10:46:38 AM , Rating: 2
The people funding it don't like that decision so they will move the money to a jurisdiction where they can patent stem cells.

It's pretty messed up. There was an article here earlier this year talking about the debate more in depth. The problem is that the companies could patent mutations they find (they tried to do this) and if you are found to have it naturally occurring in your body they could sue you. Of course since they only found it and didn't create it logic says they shouldn't be able to patent it.

RE: Finally
By Mitch101 on 10/19/2011 11:39:06 AM , Rating: 3
I worked at Pfizer and they were the first patent trolls I thought of when seeing this. They wanted to patent the disease/cause so even if someone else finds a cure they reap some rewards. No love for humanity there you should all be on medication.

RE: Finally
By toyotabedzrock on 10/19/2011 9:15:20 PM , Rating: 2
All the steam cell and other medical research is funded by the government. Private business never takes on the that much risk.

RE: Finally
By Paj on 10/20/2011 7:15:43 AM , Rating: 2
You really believe that?

RE: Finally
By wiz220 on 10/19/2011 11:34:20 AM , Rating: 2
Ya, it's pretty sad that researchers are pretty much saying if they can't have an Apple-like monopoly on stem cells (acquiring ridiculous patents that lock everyone else out of the market) they won't do it at all.

This is very reminiscent of biotech firms patenting genes. The genes already existed, the firm just figured out that it was there and what it does. They didn't necessarily do anything derivative with it, they just patented it. So now anyone actually doing anything with that gene will have to pay the firm that patented it. Patents are killing electronic tech innovation, the next victim looks like it will be biotech. This is probably more saddening because lives may hang in the balance.

Kudos to the European court system for stopping this one in its tracks. If the entire world signed onto this decision the researchers would have no choice but to continue and simply make billions off of the techniques and therapies derived from the stem cells.

RE: Finally
By TSS on 10/19/2011 12:25:39 PM , Rating: 3
The problem here is explained perfectly by the researcher's own comment:

We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the marketplace

The marketplace does not equal the public good. Low cost techniques and better health for everybody is the public good. The marketplace does not create that. It helps creating it, but only in certain situations. The patent system isn't one of them.

If they are funded for private good, then their comment makes sense. But also, private good =/= public good, and this is definatly something we wanna keep for the public.

RE: Finally
By geddarkstorm on 10/19/2011 12:44:38 PM , Rating: 2
Hit the nail on the head. Our research is not -our- research. It belongs to whomever is funding us, usually the PUBLIC. This idea about "taking our discoveries to the marketplace" is odious. That's the job of corporations, universities, or the government--to apply and license our discoveries--not ourselves.

RE: Finally
By nafhan on 10/19/2011 12:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
I completely agree with you in regards to patenting biology (it's ridiculous).
However, I think what people may be taking issue with is the "spirit" of the law. It seems as though this law may have been passed for moral/ethical reasons.

European Court of Justice?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/19/11, Rating: 0
RE: European Court of Justice?
By BZDTemp on 10/19/2011 10:32:24 AM , Rating: 2

RE: European Court of Justice?
By Reclaimer77 on 10/19/2011 10:39:03 AM , Rating: 2
Open a history book lol.

But actually I was just blatantly trolling our former oppressors, all in good fun :P

RE: European Court of Justice?
By Strunf on 10/19/2011 11:26:08 AM , Rating: 2
I just wonder from where did your ancestor came from...

RE: European Court of Justice?
By BZDTemp on 10/19/2011 6:33:55 PM , Rating: 3
I knew you were trolling I just hoped there was a little bit of substance anyway but it seems my hope was in vain. For good fun to be had there needs to substance or perhaps something along the lines of Benny Hill.

Your former oppressors providing you're in the US and that there can even be talk about oppressors would England or if you're really reaching then perhaps France, Holland and a couple of other European nations. Or if you wanna go back to before that with the Egg and all that then we can talk about some Viking settlements in the north east but there was hardly talk of oppression.
So you see talking about former oppressors in the context is just showing how little you know. The European court (which is really the EU court and nothing to do with Europe as a whole) represents many more nations than back when anyone was oppressing the US and in fact none of the nations from back then really exists except by name. Back then it was all monarchies and today it's constitutional monarchies eg. democracies so totally different.

Now you go read a book :-)

RE: European Court of Justice?
By Paj on 10/20/2011 7:22:00 AM , Rating: 2
France as an oppressor of the US?

oh dear.

Here is a better summary...
By brybir on 10/19/2011 11:43:14 AM , Rating: 2
Some context from Reuters:

"Tuesday’s judgment followed a case brought in Germany by Greenpeace, challenging a patent filed by Bruestle in 1997. The ruling concerned an invention by Oliver Bruestle of the University of Bonn for converting human embryonic stem cells into nerve cells. Bruestle said he regretted the decision. A German court ruled the patent invalid, and after Bruestle appealed, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice referred questions to the ECJ. In March, Advocate General Yves Bot handed down a legal opinion, which the ECJ effectively upheld on Tuesday"

The Economist also explains:

However, Dr Brüstle’s challenger was not, as might be expected, a pro-life activist. It was Greenpeace, an environmental group, though its main objection, to what it says is the commercialisation of human life, does have a religious ring to it. The ECJ agreed, deferring to a directive that bars patents “where respect for human dignity could thereby be affected”. Any process that involves the destruction of the human embryo, the court declared, cannot be patented"

However, the Economist also notes:

The ruling has sparked immediate uproar among academics. The decision, they warn, will not just undermine basic research. It will prompt companies to funnel cash to more welcoming jurisdictions, such as South Korea, Singapore or China, or deter them from investing in the field altogether. Others are more sanguine. Alexander Denoon, a lawyer at a law firm specialising in biosciences, argues that such a decision was augured by an earlier one from the European Patent Office in 2008. He thinks that firms and scientists should be able to adjust without abandoning research completely. Besides, European researchers can still seek patents in America and other countries"

So these companies can still get patents on the techniques in America and Asia for example (they do so already), they just can't patent it in Europe. So, seems like the alarmist calls that everyone else can just copy them is not true given that these companies and scientist will still get patents in other countries.

RE: Here is a better summary...
By brybir on 10/19/2011 11:45:15 AM , Rating: 2
So to reply to my own post, this is NOT an issue akin to merely finding a gene and patenting it, but is akin to finding a gene and then developing a novel way to turn it into something else that is useful (in this case turning a stem cell into a nerve cell).

This is closer to a moral issue than some are leading on here in the comments.

RE: Here is a better summary...
By kookyMooky on 10/19/2011 12:08:20 PM , Rating: 2
If saving a life isn't motivation enough I don't think it really matters if companies make money or not. Someone will fund it.

RE: Here is a better summary...
By Starcub on 10/20/2011 2:11:09 PM , Rating: 2
Embryonic stem cell research only takes lives, it doesn't save them. The author of this article got it wrong. In fact, ESC's have proven to be remarkably useless to anyone but the embryo.

As for the opponents who claim that they can come to the US to get the patents they are being denied in the EU...

Is the USTPO going to grant patents for something that illegal in the first place? I should hope not!

By Strunf on 10/19/2011 11:50:35 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe I'm talking to a wall, but most researchers work in Universities and other public institutions, I wonder why should they be outraged by this... let's all be honest a bit the outraged people are the investors who seek profit at whatever cost, then again I always thought Monsanto and the like were like some kind of cartel ready to beat you up if you don't follow their rules!

RE: Researchs
By geddarkstorm on 10/19/2011 12:40:37 PM , Rating: 2
Indeed, their "outrage" is ridiculous. For a researcher, this ruling doesn't affect us. Not if we are doing science for the "public good", or for the sake of science and research -- you know, the common forces that drive us scientists and keep us honest. If we are only doing it so we can get rich fast, then and only then would this put a kink in ones plans.

The ruling is completely sound and reasonable, just like the one in the US stating that genes themselves could not be patented. The "outrage" by supposed "researchers/scientists" says more about their motives than anything else.

By kookyMooky on 10/19/2011 12:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
Score one for humanity

RE: Yeah
By gwidionx on 10/19/2011 1:24:18 PM , Rating: 2
too bad this doesn't happen very often

Some common sense for once
By Nyu on 10/20/2011 2:47:49 PM , Rating: 2
How is this a bad thing? Stem cell research should be done for the good of humankind to defeat aging and thus open the gates for what the world should become in the near future; monetary gain shouldn't apply here.

If anything, the governments should fully support and fund this type of research.

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