Stem cell research has historically been a controversial topic in modern science, provoking human rights activists to split sides, and now involving legal disparities among patent owners. Reports describe a new legal suit against the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has a patent on stem cells derived from human embryos, has been brought on by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog in what Consumer Watchdog claims is research that is too similar to earlier work and therefore undeserved to be owned by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Part of the debate centers around the very incendiary core of the research into stem cells to begin with. The idea that naturally occurring material -- genetic material in this case -- can be patented doesn't sit right with some, and furthermore some say complicates research costs and hinders research altogether.
And despite the claims that patenting stem cell work hinders research, part of the issue is the money that would go to the organization that patents the work on the stem cells then used in medical treatments -- ones that are increasing in usage for spinal cord and other fatal disease treatments. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2013 that isolated human genes cannot be patented -- invalidating the patents that had gone to Myriad Genetics since the 1990's. This ruling is part of what the Consumer Watchdog hopes to have stem cells included under in order to make them unable to be patented.
Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, it will be a marker for a few items in the legal world: How much influence public entities can have on research patents and the invalidation thereof, and the future of some of the most volatile scientific and medical research at hand -- one rife with political and cultural implications.