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WARF will ease stem cell licensing restrictions

Madison, Wis. - The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California consumer watchdog organization, says policy changes that ease licensing requirements on human embryonic stem cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation are a step in the right direction, but don't go far enough to relinquish WARF's claims on embryonic stem cells.

FTCR and the Public Patent Foundation, which have mounted a legal challenge to three WARF patents that cover stem cells, called on the University of Wisconsin-Madison licensing arm to abandon the patents, an idea it flatly rejected.

Following an internal review and input from researchers, WARF said it would allow industry-sponsored research at academic and non-profit institutions without a license, and allow simpler, cost-free cell transfers among researchers. WARF also will not require a license or agreement from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine because it is a non-profit, grant-making organization that does not intend to produce or sell stem cell products.

The announcement means that WARF no longer expects CIRM to pay any portion of revenues it receives from research that it funds, but it will require a license from a private company that conducts research in its laboratories if the company receives grant money from CIRM.

WARF spokesman Andrew Cohn said the revisions are a response to feedback from researchers, and a reflection of WARF's interest in advancing stem cell research.
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A spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has convinced the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to review WARF's stem cell patents, said the Wisconsin foundation has clearly softened its position as a result of the legal challenge.

John Simpson, stem cell project director for the FTCR, said WARF's action shows that its previous stance was detrimental to stem cell research, and he called on WARF to abandon its claims to what he called over-reaching patents. "I think this represents, to me, a direct reaction to all the negative publicity in the research community and in the press," he said, ticking off a list of national publications that have covered the controversy. "All this came about as a result of the request for [patent] re-examination."

Patents without merit?

Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, joined Simpson in calling on WARF to abandon the patents, and he repeated the contention that UW-Madison stem cell researcher James Thomson did not "invent" stem cells. In 1998, Thomson announced that he had discovered a method of isolating stem cells in human embryos.

The FTCR and the Public Patent Foundation filed a request for re-examination last year, warning that WARF was hindering stem cell research. The groups believe that WARF's stem cell patents should not have been issued.

Cohn said the idea that the legal challenge influenced the change in policy is "absolutely ridiculous" and, in reference to the FTRC, said "it goes to show that this group is much more interested in political machinations and publicity than supporting research."

Asked if WARF intends to abandon its stem cell patents, he replied, "Absolutely not."

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