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12 January 2011

EU court to discuss patents for embryonic stem cells

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The never-ending debate on patenting human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) will receive fresh wind in its sails today as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) holds a hearing to discuss the definition of 'human embryos' and their industrial and commercial use

The EU court has been asked to define 'human embryo' and outline their practical uses as spelled out in the EU's Biotechnology Directive (see 'Background'), which states that "the human body, at the various stages of its formation and development," cannot be considered a patentable invention.

Brüstle vs. Greenpeace

The request for a preliminary ECJ ruling on the matter comes from the German Federal Court of Justice, which failed to decide whether to patent a method of converting embryonic stem cells (hESC) into nerve cells, which could potentially be used to treat neurological trauma and disease and was introduced by German researcher Oliver Brüstle.

The patent was originally granted to Brüstle in 1999. But following legal action by Greenpeace, the patent was deemed to be in violation of the EU biotech directive and was partially revoked.

After a renewed appeal by the patent holder and given the incapacity of the German court to decide, a number of questions are now being referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.


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