Stem Cells, Rolls-Royce, Nestle, BMI: Intellectual Property

By Victoria Slind-Flor
(c) 2011 Bloomberg News
Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:25 AM

March 11 (Bloomberg) -- Patent protection for stem-cell research methods that involve cells from human embryos breaches European Union law, an adviser to the region's highest court said in a non-binding opinion yesterday.

Inventions based on certain stem cells "can be patentable only if they are not obtained to the detriment of an embryo" resulting in its destruction or modification, Yves Bot, advocate general of the European Court of Justice, said. The Luxembourg- based EU court follows such advice in a majority of cases.

Under an EU law from 1998, research methods that involve human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes can't be patented. A German court handling the dispute at the center of yesterday's case sought the EU tribunal's view on how to interpret this phrase and 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. Greenpeace, which said it 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. The Federal Court of Justice, Germany's highest civil court, last year asked for guidance on the case.

The advocate general said so-called pluripotent embryonic stem cells, such as those Bruestle used, don't fall under the definition of embryo because "they are no longer capable of developing into a complete human being." Still, it isn't possible to ignore the origin of these stem cells, he said.

A technical process which requires "either the destruction of human embryos, or their use as base material," can't be patented, Bot said.

Bruestle called the outcome "unexpected, surprising and very restrictive," in an interview at the court yesterday. "Should this be followed by the court, it would have very serious disadvantages for medical stem-cell research in Europe."

Greenpeace said the outcome was an important guideline for the future.

"Our aim with this case was to clarify the scope of protection of human embryos," Christoph Then, an adviser to Greenpeace, told Bloomberg. "This goes in the right direction and we have to wait for the court's final decision now."

The case is C-34/10, Bruestle v. Greenpeace.

International Aero Engines, the venture led by Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce Group Plc, said its members renewed their alliance agreement through 2045 even as the two lead partners wrestle over patent litigation.

IAE will continue to "to develop and apply our technology," Chief Executive Officer Ian Aitken said yesterday in a statement, signaling that the group has the ability to work on new products and not just service existing engines.

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