NRL News

New patent law to impact Minnesota

by | Sep 22, 2011

No patents allowed for human embryos

MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach

A ban on the issuing of U.S. patents on human embryos was enacted into law on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.[See] The pro-life policy was enacted as part of the “America Invents Act” bill (H.R. 1249) and could have a direct impact on researchers involved in clone-and-kill activities at the University of Minnesota and other institutions. The bill, which runs 58 pages in its final form, makes numerous changes to laws that govern the granting of patents in the United States, which is a function of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a division of the Department of Commerce.

A patent is a government-conferred property right that gives an inventor exclusive rights to manufacture or use his invention for a defined period, usually 20 years. The patent holder can license others to employ his patent for a fee, called a royalty.

“During the 2011 state legislative session, the University of Minnesota and others who support human cloning issued the laughable claim that the state would lose $48.4 million if they were unable to receive taxpayer funding for human cloning,” said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). With the new patent law in place, researchers cannot receive royalties from creating and killing young members of our species.

When it became clear that Congress was likely to take up a sweeping revision of the patent laws, MCCL, working in concert with National Right to Life in Washington, D.C., insisted on inclusion of language to codify a previously enacted temporary prohibition on any patents being issued on human embryos. The previously enacted provision was the 2004 Weldon Amendment that required yearly reauthorization. President Obama signed the bill codifying the Weldon Amendment into law last Friday.

The key language, as it appears in Section 33 of the enacted measure, reads as follows: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism.”

The powerful Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) lobbied strenuously against enactment of the ban.

The substantive scope of the Weldon language was explained by then-USPTO Director James Rogan in a letter dated Nov. 20, 2003, as follows: “The USPTO understands the Weldon Amendment to provide unequivocal congressional backing for the long-standing USPTO policy of refusing to grant any patent containing a claim that encompasses any member of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development … including a human embryo or human fetus … [which] applies regardless of the manner and mechanism used to bring a human organism into existence (e.g., somatic cell nuclear transfer, in vitro fertilization, parthenogenesis).”

“Scientists who want cures for people are focused on adult stem cell research and not on the creation and destruction of human embryos,” Fischbach said. “Currently 72 adult stem cell treatments are helping people every day, whereas killing human embryos has resulted in nothing but dead human embryos.”

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