Stem Cell Patentability: Regenerating Wrong Theories?

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Only sensible patentability can end the battle between responsible research and human interest

Cells that regenerate themselves and ‘repair’ the human body have been exciting mankind for many years. Stem cells have today become a specialized branch of human biology with self-renewal and potency leading to research, experimentation and evolution theories.

Crossroad of science and human interest

Unlike other branches of biology, stem cells have succumbed to controversy quite early. Conflicts with a human interest twist to them have hindered professional research. Patents and litigations have mushroomed – for bringing professional order and setting boundaries to the science of stem cells. We are currently at an exciting crossroad of science and human interest with embryonic research as the epicenter of controversies – especially around the ‘human’ nature of the <a

Evolution of patent thickets

In spite of this, there has been exponential growth in patenting activity. Technologies revolving around stem cells are process-oriented, and often lead to emergence of cross-linked technologies. Patent thickets, leading from intersecting patents have been a result of such processes. In the mid 90s, there was rapid growth in the number of patents granted by USPTO in the field, followed by a steep decline in 2003. Also, WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) owns a huge repertoire of stem cell related patents that relate to the core of all possible lineages of cellular differentiation.

Patentability of stem cells

USPTO considers ‘purified and isolated stem cells’ as patentable subject matter. The uniqueness of stem cells lies in the fact that a small number of patents cover fundamental technologies that aid research. These are core technologies that
inform and support the larger ecosystem and a handful of patents have enormous potential for preventing commercialization of applications.

Responsible research

Stem cells have become frontbenchers in advanced medical research. But the scientific community is divided on how ‘ethical’ embryonic stem cells are. Popular consensus is that stem cell research has huge potential as long as it blends with humane sensibilities and in the definition of the ‘legal’ status of an embryo. Patents play a big role in striking this balance between enriching life through science and not going overboard with it. A legal framework around stem cell research will ensure the evolution of end products and theories that aid the cause of responsible science.

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