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Biotech Medicine Patents The Almighty Buck Science

Stem Cell Patent Halts Hospital's Collection 223

eldavojohn writes "It's a classic case that comes up when dealing with patents. A hospital's research on the donated brains of deceased children has been in limbo for three years because of a challenge from a patent holder. The double-edged sword of patents that spurred investment into the field will also cause chilling effects on research like the case of the Children's Hospital of Orange County. They've now been forced to shift the money from the lab to lawyers in order to deal with this ongoing patent dispute over a technique that was developed to extract stem cells at the Salk Institute. Unfortunately the Salk Institute failed to patent the technology, so a company named StemCells happily had it approved. The real disheartening news is that CHOC's Dr. Philip H. Schwartz — the doctor collecting the cells — was one of the original researchers who helped developed this technique at the Salk Institute. Now he can't even use the technique he helped create. Schwartz has since been instructed not to publicly discuss the case further. Research interests are clashing with commercial interests in a classic case that causes one to wonder if patents surrounding medical techniques like this stretch too far. As for the people that donated their dead child's brain to research, those valuable stem cell cultures have been kept in storage instead of being disseminated to research labs (which desperately need them) across the country."
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Stem Cell Patent Halts Hospital's Collection

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:29PM (#32325720)

    A group that didn't invent it shouldn't even be able to patent it. Fuck you, "StemCells", fuck you to the grave.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Nobody should be able to patent it. The original inventors could just as well be the patent trolls keeping stem cells out of hospitals.

      • by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:42PM (#32325952)

        Didn't RTFA?

        One of the doctors complaining is one of the doctors that invented the process.

        • by socsoc ( 1116769 )
          Or even the whole summary...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MrMr ( 219533 )
      I wonder who the company claimed as inventors on their patent application.
      Knowingly leaving out the real inventors will get them more than just a slap on the wrist...
      • by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:32PM (#32326722) Homepage

        Knowingly leaving out the real inventors will get them more than just a slap on the wrist...

        Yes, but only after years of legal battles. They'll need the first court to overturn the patent before they would be able to go back after them for damages. That's the problem here... Patents are being blindly issued, only looking to see if it was patented before. Then, it's up to the courts to determine the validity of the patent... That's horrible for the little guy, who chances are doesn't have the money to pay for the legal fees. So the only people the current patent system helps, are the big companies and the courts.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Venik ( 915777 )

          So the only people the current patent system helps, are the big companies and the courts.

          Perhaps, but it would appear that the real problem is the incompetent assgobblins holed up in the US Patent and Trademark Orifice. I think a good first step would be to introduce compulsory IQ testing at the USPTO and lay off employees scoring below seventy, confiscating all of their square pegs and round holes. The remaining six patent analysts should be offered early retirement with full benefits and a conciliatory "years of service" plaque.

    • by Kpau ( 621891 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @03:35PM (#32327540)
      It would be a real shame if StemCells mysteriously burned to the ground and all the executives, investors, and such were found to have had their brains extracted. Not that I'm suggesting anything....
    • by Anonymous Coward

      How patently fair. The intellectual property laws are out there for everyone to see and play by, and the public has benefited from this.

      The process was apparently invented independently and simultaneously by two groups, only one of which (StemCells) filed a patent for it. If Schwartz had merely published his work first (or filed a patent for it first, which is tantamount to publishing), he could have blocked StemCell from obtaining a patent.

      Schwartz chose instead to keep his technology secret. He lost his b

      • If I had mod points, this should really be bumped up. He could have shown prior art if he published, but he did not. I disagree that the results were fair (I never liked the 'first to the patent office' rule), but there was something the guy could have done.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by WNight ( 23683 )

        and the public has benefited from this.

        Bullshit. The method was easy enough that multiple people have independently discovered it and it is now locked down so that nobody else can use it, at least without paying a worthless person who didn't even invent anything.

        A simple, usable method for something was easily available and in use, now it is not. The public lost, and big.

        People worldwide can now build on that technology, either through licensing of it or by trying to find work-arounds.

        What kind of retard are you that you think it's going to be easier? The easy method is now taken, to work-around it they're going to have to needlessly complicate what should be

  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:33PM (#32325816)

    So you could say that the company StemCells
    ::puts on sunglasses::
    is causing division in this new industry?

  • by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:35PM (#32325840) Homepage Journal

    Dead child brains?

    Advanced medical research?

    Idea-stealing profiteers and soulless lawyers, deserving of comeuppance?

    I smell zombies!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

      I was actually thinking that it's the sort of research that could go incredibly wrong after they realized that they used the brain of somebody named Abby Normal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Spazztastic ( 814296 )

        Dr. Frankenstein: [To Igor] Igor, may I speak to you for a moment?
        Igor: Of course.
        Dr. Frankenstein: Sit down, won't you?
        Igor: Thank you. [Igor sits on the floor]
        Dr. Frankenstein: No no, up here.
        Igor: Thank you. [Igor sits on a chair]
        Dr. Frankenstein: Now... that brain that you gave me... was it Hans Delbruck's?
        Igor: [Crosses arms] No.
        Dr. Frankenstein: [Holds up hand] Ah. Good. Uh... would you mind telling me... whose brain... I did put in?
        Igor: And you won't be angry?
        Dr. Frankenstein: I will not be angry.

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:36PM (#32325856)

    I know this is a serious topic, but... I... can't resist....


  • Prior art? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kronon ( 1263422 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:37PM (#32325858)
    How can StemCells be granted a patent for this technique? It would seem that Salk Institute can prove that it is prior art (i.e. that they utilized this technique prior to any patent claims by StemCells), invalidating the patent claim by StemCells.
    • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gorzek ( 647352 ) <gorzek AT gmail DOT com> on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:46PM (#32326006) Homepage Journal

      They still have to go to court to get it invalidated, though.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vxice ( 1690200 )
        Actually when filing for the patent StemCells should have had to prove originality of their idea. If their patent is found invalidated hopefully they will be forced to compensate for legal fees, but since many of these companies are small shell companies made to collect profit and compartmentalize risk they will have just enough assets for whatever their purpose is and no more so wont be able to pay any thing to the courts if they loose the case.
        • Forced to compensate? These companies are puppets of bigger groups of people with money,and usually lawyers working purely on percentage of winnings only. These businesses have by nature NO money. They are just a shell game so when things go badly for them the owners just setup another company, transfer a few patents into it, and begin the process again. Hell, I can't understand for the life of me, but .\ won't even post anything up about my submission about a troll pulling the same thing against almost eve
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by WNight ( 23683 )

            I saw a similar story (though of a much smaller scale). A tow-truck towed the wrong car, badly, and then abandoned it ruined on the side of the road when the error was discovered. By the time the owner found their vehicle a few hours later the towing company was dissolved. When the show investigated the owner had had many such companies.

            This is why I advocate removing the so-called corporate veil. I feel that unless you actively pursue honest dealings in your company (forward all transactions to auditors, a

    • Write your congress creature to push on patent reform, or more funding for the patent office to check for prior art.
    • by alen ( 225700 )


      StemCells is part of Stanford and were the first to create this technique

      • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kronon ( 1263422 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:25PM (#32326620)
        I don't see any proof of that in the article. The article implies that it was lack of initiative by Salk Institute that allowed StemCells to secure a patent on the technique: "The dispute comes down to access to a technique that Schwartz helped develop at the Salk Institute but the institute failed to patent. StemCells did." Can you provide a citation that gives a detailed chronology? In any case, Weissman comes off as a huge hypocrite by freezing out a research group with no commercial interests --- i.e., on the one hand he'll advocate for freedom to carry out this research, while simultaneously stymieing basic, non-commercial research with the other. This is what really bothers me about patents: They can enable commercial interests to erect a fence and keep out any public research in a potentially large area of science. Commercial interests can often secure funds to pay for licensing the patents. This usually is not in the budget for publicly funded research groups. (My preview shows this appearing as a wall of text, even though I have included white space.)
        • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )

          The article implies that it was lack of initiative by Salk Institute that allowed StemCells to secure a patent on the technique

          You have to know that patenting a process internationaly costs around $100K

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          This may seem obvioud to you and me, but many people don't get it. Stem cell research has the potential to CURE many medical problems. That's CURE, as in permanently fix them. Most of "Big Pharma" makes most of their revenue from the boat load of maintenance medications that they ship out every day to TREAT THE SYMPTOMS of the many "chronic" and "incurable" diseases that are out there. My dad has taken a handful of pills every day of his life for the last 20 years to keep the prostate cancer that he go

      • by socsoc ( 1116769 )

        Where in the article does it say that?

        Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute at Stanford != Palo Alto biotech company StemCells

        Sure, Dr Weissman is a member of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Boards of StemCells.

        Sure, Dr Weissman is the Director of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

        But, they aren't mutually inclusive.

    • It would seem that Salk Institute can prove that it is prior art (i.e. that they published this technique prior to any patent filings by StemCells), invalidating the patent claim by StemCells.

      Two small changes from what you wrote, but critical. Prior art must be public and predate patent filings (not necessarily predate claims).

  • This could probably be resolved by publishing the names of those responsible for StemCells far and wide.

  • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <> on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:38PM (#32325882) Homepage

    This is a great example of why defensive patents are necessary. The inventor can obtain the patents, then grant anyone a free, perpetual license to use the technology. Hopefully, the doctor will win the lawsuit based on his work in creating the process but it's pretty crazy that it's not certain that he can win unless his creative process was public enough to constitute prior art.

    • by MojoRilla ( 591502 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:51PM (#32326076)
      The solution to over-patenting isn't more patents. That would just be shoveling more money to lawyers and away from doing research or curing people. The solutions here seem to be to either allow nonprofits and universities to use patents for basic research, or to shorten patent lengths. A 20 year patent seems ridiculous when product lifecycles and discoveries are moving much more quickly.
      • Perhaps. But that would require a comprehensive change of the patent laws of the United States. Over-patenting can be done without getting all the politicians together.

      • In this case, I think a fast-track process to get an obviously wrongly awarded patent invalidated would suffice. I would toss in treble damages awarded to the original inventor (if they're the one asking for the invalidation), to punish patent trolls trying to patent something someone else invented, but that's just me.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Znork ( 31774 )

        The solutions here

        The solution here is not to allow monopoly rights at all. If there is a desperate desire to divert money towards specific fields or specific holders of certain papers, then just outright pay them from whatever public purse whose politicos they control, and leave the actual economy and business of getting jobs done alone.

        Patents and other IPR seems like a good idea to some because their costs are not accounted for, but there is no macroeconomic difference between the privatized taxation rig

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Angst Badger ( 8636 )

        A 20 year patent seems ridiculous when product lifecycles and discoveries are moving much more quickly.

        Definitely. In some industries -- practically anything electronics-based, for example -- a five year patent would probably be excessive. Patents would be a lot more productive if they were scaled to the rate of change in their industry, and perhaps more importantly, could be invalidated if it was shown that a particular patent was causing irreparable harm to individuals, as might be the case where someone is denied medical care as a result.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by apoc.famine ( 621563 )
        The patent abuses that the current system fosters used to have me firmly against the system as a whole. Now, the patent system is what writes my paycheck.

        I'm doing PhD work at a very large US research university. Our patent portfolio goes back something like 80 years, and the money from licensing those patents was invested back into the research endowment. Today, we can fund thousands of graduate researchers due to that research endowment, all built on the money from licensing stuff discovered here.

        I us
    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:58PM (#32326198)

      How nice that they're allowed to spend ten to twenty thousand dollars applying for a patent that they don't intend to use. All in an effort to prevent what is basically being blackmailed by a company that has not only stolen your ideas from you, but also from everyone else who would do work in the field. What a wonderful, effective system we have.

      • That's modern patent law for you. There's a reason why most patent-holding trusts are owned by lawyers.

        "Hey nice idea there, it'd be a shame if something unfortunate happened wouldn't it?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Coincidentally, the Salk Institute was founded by Jonas Salk [], the saint-like figure who developed the polio vaccine in the 1950s and then intentionally did not patent it.

      When news of the vaccine's success was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a "miracle worker", and the day "almost became a national holiday." His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in a televised interview who owned the pat

  • by sonnejw0 ( 1114901 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:41PM (#32325936)
    Research is a noncommercial endeavour, and as such patent infringement cannot occur. What these "researchers" were trying to do with these brains was something akin to a commercial endeavour, whereby the can extract the stem cells within the dead children's brains, grow them as eternal cell culture and cell these renewing stem cell cultures to real researchers. If they were performing non-profit research, they could use whatever technique the wanted to ... it's like a hobby.

    You can go tinker with your car and fabricate a new intake manifold on your own to make it go faster, and not be afraid of being sued for patent infringement because you used some company's design for an intake manifold. When you start racing professionally with that car seeking sponsorships and purses, then you've committed patent infringement.
  • ah, thank goodness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:43PM (#32325966) Homepage
    So to date this life-giving science has been encumbered by christian fundamentalists and unsavory patent trolls. If my america pedals itself any faster into the dark ages, ill have to resort to public flagellation as a response to the upcoming hurricane season.
    • I've been publicly flagellating myself for years. And it WORKS. Since I started, we have had ZERO hurricanes here in Iowa.

    • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:06PM (#32326298)
      The research in question was never effected by Christian fundamentalists since it does not involve embryonic stem cells. Of course that is true of all of the promising stem cell research. Christians do not have a problem with stem cell research, Christians have a problem with embryonic stem cell research. What is nice about this is that none of the research that is showing promise for providing cures involves embryonic stem cells.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 )

      Well the Embryonic Stem-Cell debate (which isn't what this is about) is what there is debate about, because in order to get these stem-cells you need to terminate the fetus, which is a valid moral debate without thumping the bible, because the PEOPLE who wrote the bible never even considered about thinking things to that detail. Terms of Patents just because they are protecting their patient it doesn't mean they are a Patent Troll. A lot of this type of stuff we really need a good debate on it, without fi

  • by 2obvious4u ( 871996 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:47PM (#32326014)
    Move to China, Russia, or Canada. [] After reading today's Slashdot news I don't know why anyone would want to live in the Western World.

    You can't buy lab equipment since in the West that would make you a drug maker or a terrorist. []
    You can't create innovative software that does something better than an established market, because you're infringing on a patent. (The whole MPEG-LA thing...)
    You can't grow one of the most useful plants known to man, because someone might ingest its bud and receive pleasure from it.

    Honestly, Just move to another country that doesn't respect the US patents and start saving lives. I'm sure India would love to have your expertise. There is also the United Arab Emirates, and the other Oil producing nations that are actively building research facilities to help them compete when the oil runs out.
    • hyperbole (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I used to think statements like this were hyperbole but now it seems an unavoidable conclusion. There was a time when America, and "the West" in general, were animated by a respect for science in and of itself.
      Now there is something deeply broken in our country, it's as if there has been a kind of fundamental rejection of the concept of progress as one of the central aspects of our national identity. The idea that together we can make the future better than the present has seemingly been supplanted by autho

    • I am in Canada... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mano.m ( 1587187 )
      and we are very much part of 'the western world'. Right there next to you. A little to the north. There you go.
  • No one should have the right to patent anything used in the medical field. You create a wonder drug that can cure cancer or something, you have a responsibility as a human being to allow the world to use it.
    Besides, if you didn't invent it, screw off.
    • Re:Medical Patents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:05PM (#32326286)

      Double edged sword. It can take decades of time and millions upon millions to spit out one thing useful. Patents give return on investment.

      I'd love research done for research's sake too, but pragmatism has this nasty habit of beating the snot out of idealism.

      Besides, if you didn't invent it, screw off.
      Damn right. StemCells needs to be staplegunned to the wall for this well as the Patent Office being held liable too, since someone didn't do their prior art research.

  • If I lived near Palo Alto, I'd gladly join in picketing Dr. Weissman's house and office. But since I'm 3000 miles away, the best I can do is relay information about him for those of us who need to protest remotely:

    Admin. aide:, 650-723-6520

  • by Artagel ( 114272 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:08PM (#32326348) Homepage
    When someone develops a technology, their choices are generally to patent it themselves, publish it to give it to the public, or keep the development a secret. If a company indeed developed the technology independently, and there was no making the knowledge public, then the secret-keeper can have a problem. The patent system encourages developments to be made public, but with benefits for doing so. One of the detriments is that if you keep a secret, you may find someone else decides to patent it. Then you are can be an infringer. This is a rarer instance. Most often in the not-for-profit world, people choose to publish. In fact, early publication is the biggest threat to universities getting patents on professors' developments.
  • As for the people that donated their dead child's brain to research, those valuable stem cell cultures have been kept in storage instead of being disseminated to research labs (who desperately need them) across the country.

    Gotta love some good hyperbole. Not only are they evil corporations, but they are after the brains of dead children!

  • by yossie ( 93792 ) on Monday May 24, 2010 @02:32PM (#32326724)

    Executive summery, fourth paragraph:
    "We have over forty issued U.S. patents, plus foreign equivalents to some fourteen of our U.S. patents and applications, for a total of over one hundred and seventy individual patents worldwide."
    This company is clearly a patent troll, NOT a technology company. Shame shame shame.

  • Whatever happened to that really old legal requirement for patents? You know the one where you actually have to be the inventor to patent it...
  • This patent troll has over-extended itself: the researchers will be able to prove their prior-art research and at the end of the day, the StemCells inc. patent will be invalidated - and they have nobody else but themselves to blame.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Which is all well and fine, but in the meantime research is put on hold and the fraudsters (let's be blunt, that's what these guys are) may lose the patent but will suffer nothing else from what amounts to the IP equivalent of forging bad checks. This company is hardly the first. Probably the most famous patent con artists were Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, both of which have, ironically, come to represent the towering achievers of the modern patent system.

  • I have been told to document all inventions we come up with at work, even if they are something we would prefer one of our vendors to implement, because if we don't, another vendor could claim it is their IP and keep our vendor from using it.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI