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Embryonic Stem-Cell Patents Infringe EU Law

The EU’s highest court (Court of Justice inLuxembourg) said that stem-cell research involving human embryos can’t be patented.


The Federal Court of Justice, Germany’s highest civil court, last year asked the EU tribunal for guidance on the case seeking the EU tribunal’s view on how to interpret the phrase “for scientific research involving human embryos” and to clarify the term “human embryo.”

  • The case was triggered when Greenpeace challenged a German patent awarded to Oliver Bruestle, a professor and specialist in stem-cell research. Under an EU law from 1998, research methods that involve human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes can’t be patented.

The court clarified that “only use” of human embryos “for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it”. 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,” said the EU court.  While patent protection might not be available, EU scientists can seek so-called data exclusivity, which protects documentation for as much as 8 years and prevents the marketing of competing products based on the same data for up to 10 years.  (HWM and K Bodoni, Bloomberg)


The Bottom Line:Europe’s top court says patents cannot be filed on stem-cell research using cells from human embryos; a move many scientists say will harm future advances in medicine. Greenpeace sued for “ethical reasons,” argued the patent for a stem-cell research process developed by Bruestle to treat neural diseases is invalid because it covers cells derived from human embryos. This is a setback for bio-medical research in the area of stem cells. In a decision issued on 1/18/11, the EU Court of Justice inLuxembourg wrote that a process that involves taking a stem cell from a human embryo, resulting in its destruction, cannot be patented. The EU court ruling will have huge repercussions globally, especially in the competition with theUS andAsia, and in scientific research. (The case is: C-34/10, Prof. Dr. Oliver Bruestle v. Greenpeace e. V)