[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] on Tuesday ruled [materials] that, under European law, a patent cannot be issued for any process which involves removing a stem cell [JURIST news archive] from and then destroying a human embryo. The case stems from a German patent filed by Oliver Brustle [University of Ulm profile] who invented a method for converting human embryonic stem cells into nerve cells. Greenpeace [advocacy website] first challenged Brustle’s patent in 1997. A German court ruled the patent invalid, and, upon appeal by Brustle, the German Federal Court of Justice [official website] referred questions to the ECJ. The ECJ considered “the concept of ‘uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes'” within Article 6(2)(c) of Directive 98/44/EC [text] and held that:
An invention must be excluded from patentability where the application of the technical process for which the patent is filed necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos or their use as base material, even if the description of that process does not contain any reference to the use of human embryos. … The exception to the non-patentability of uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes concerns only inventions for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it.
The ruling limits the use in Europe of stem cells for the treatment of a range of diseases, and opponents of the ruling argue it will severely undercut medical research throughout the region.
Stem cell research is also a controversial topic in the US. In July, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed an appeal [JURIST report] attempting to overturn April’s decision that ended an injunction [JURIST reports] on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In 2009, President Barack Obama [official website] signed an executive order [JURIST report] which removed the previous administration’s eight-year restriction on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. After a preliminary injunction on stem research was granted last year, the Obama administration appealed [JURIST report] the injunction, arguing that the ruling was overbroad, endangering an array of research across multiple programs and centers while only serving a very attenuated economic interest of the plaintiffs in the case. While the appeals process was underway, the court granted a long-term stay which allowed federal funding to continue [JURIST report] while the court reached a decision.