Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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University-owned patents benefit research

The new Program in Science and Technology Studies held its second seminar on stem-cell research Monday night. Two speakers — Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and Pilar Ossorio, UW-Madison assistant professor of law and medical ethics — discussed the benefits of university patents regarding stem-cell research.

University- rather than industry-owned patents help further research in the interest in the public, Gulbrandsen said.

“University patents encourage innovation, provide research incentives and facilitate research,” Gulbrandsen said. “If only industries own patents, industries can set their own agenda, and it may not serve the public good.”

A patent is a right from the federal government to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing the patented item. The inventor exclusively receives the benefits of the patented item or research from selling a license. The public may then receive new, useful ideas when the invention develops into a marketable item.

The current policy surrounding patents is to encourage private firms to develop university-found inventions. WARF, an exclusive patent management organization for UW-Madison, supports scientific research by moving university inventions to the marketplace, where they can benefit society.
The majority of research by universities in the United States is funded by the federal government. The university research is then transferred to private industries. The biomedical industry is more dependent on these technical patents than any other industry in the United States. Many of the patents discovered at universities are new drugs, medical treatments and technologies.
“There are ethical concerns of university patenting over things like stem cells,” Ossorio said. “There is concern about patenting human-derived materials.”
Protesters of stem-cell patenting say patents on human biological materials are wrong because they undermine human dignity by subjecting body parts to market values, advertising and stockpiling. Protesters also say cell patents place restrictions on something that rightfully belongs to every human, the ability to create an embryo.
WARF placed three bioethical restrictions on UW’s stem-cell licensing agreement. First, stem cells cannot be implanted in a uterus. Second, stem cells cannot be intermixed with an embryo. Finally, researchers cannot attempt to create a human embryo using stem cells.
UW-Madison currently has two patents on Dr. James Thomson’s human embryonic stem-cell research.
“When Thomson first approached us with his research [in 1995], we thought . . . the most immediate use for [stem cells] was a research tool,” Gulbrandsen said.
WARF developed an official university patent for stem cells in September 2001. UW’s licensing rights provide WiCells-HES cells (UW-derived stem cells) to National Institute of Health researchers with few restrictions and at low cost, Gulbrandsen said.
“Because of patents, WiCells-HES cells will be the most widely dispersed of any stem cells,” Gulbrandsen said. “It will have great benefits for the university.”
Although UW holds licensing rights to HES research, the government can declare stem-cell research illegal at any time.

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