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European Court of Justice Rejects Stem-Cell Patents 92

Posted by timothy
from the but-it's-just-a-mass-of-tissue dept.
ianare writes "The European Court of Justice Friday issued a preliminary opinion that procedures involving human embryonic stem cells are not patentable — even if the process in question does not involve the direct destruction of embryos — because they are tantamount to making industrial use of human embryos, which 'would be contrary to ethics and public policy.'"
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European Court of Justice Rejects Stem-Cell Patents

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:06AM (#35462374)

    ...there is prior art, at least by 4 billion years.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Yes, I applaud their result, but can't figure out their reasoning. Stem cells shouldn't be patented because they were invented by nature.

      How exactly is the industrial use of human embryos unethical anyway? Honestly, refusing people potential treatments that could be developed with the industrial use of human embryos seems much more unethical.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How exactly is the industrial use of human embryos unethical anyway?

        1) at what point does it legally become "human"? You have to draw a line somewhere for legal purposes. It'll be arbitrary and silly, but it's still necessary.

        2) They are treating humans and human embryos as a special case. This is a good thing (for humans anyway). You don't want the usual sociopathic CEOs to consider the use/abuse of human embryos lightly, all in the purpose of profit.

        If you think that allowing industrial use of human embroys is necessary to provide those treatments you probably believe Mon

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by Hatta (162192)

          1) at what point does it legally become "human"? You have to draw a line somewhere for legal purposes. It'll be arbitrary and silly, but it's still necessary.

          Most of what makes a human a human is a functioning neo-cortex. The very first cells that can be traced to the neo-cortex form at around 8 weeks. That's the absolute earliest that it would make sense to define a human, and in reality it's probably much later than that that the neo cortex becomes functional. Suffice it to say that there is no scien

          • Most of what makes a human a human is a functioning neo-cortex. The very first cells that can be traced to the neo-cortex form at around 8 weeks. That's the absolute earliest that it would make sense to define a human

            This, folks, is what we call begging the question.

            Why do you say that is what makes us human? How are you defining "what a human is"?

            • by shaitand (626655)

              He is defining the earliest attribute that could be argued to constitute a THINKING human. It isn't the human part that raises ethical issues, it's the thinking part. An organism that is completely human but not thinking raises no ethical issues and a thinking organism that isn't related to humans in any ways shares all the same ethical considerations.

              So please. Let's stop pretending the question is "when it becomes a human". The question is if it has higher thought and self awareness and it certainly has n

              • The question is if it has higher thought and self awareness

                Has it been shown that newborns know they are babies, or that they are capable of meta-cognition?

                And he did not specify "thinking human"; he implied that there was agreement that thats what it means to be human (to have a neocortex), when in fact that is the very core of the debate. Hence why its a "begging the question" fallacy.

                • by shaitand (626655)

                  "Has it been shown that newborns know they are babies, or that they are capable of meta-cognition?"

                  That is another question altogether but he question is taken out of our hands at that point. Nature, god, or what have you has declared via the act of birth that the new potential human is 'done'.

    • Given that a human brain has about 100 billion neurons. Each of these neurons can be simplified as storing about 10000 floating-point values between 0 and 1 (granted, to an utter ridiculous level of precision, but moving everything about 1% has about the same effect of getting yourself drunk, so let's say each can have 4096 different values).

      So that means that total amount of information in the human mind is close to 4*10^18 bits. This is about the amount of information encoded in 4 grams of metal, in the m

      • by Muros (1167213)
        There is a difference between information and noise. Granted, it depends which brains you look at....
      • by shaitand (626655)

        "So we have prior art for pretty much everything any human will ever think up inside this little ball we're walking on.

        Point being : discoveries are patentable too, in general."

        Amazing, you can come to that realization and still think of patents as having validity at all.

    • by Muros (1167213)
      I'm glad that they say that "procedures involving XXX are not patentable". Hopefully the XXX will be expanded to say, for example "XXX being done on a computer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:33AM (#35462504)

    Personally I don't think ethics should play a role in what is patentable. Patentability should depends solely on the technical merits of the application. We do already have various laws, treaties and oaths concerning the ethics of medical research.

    The idea that rejecting a patent somehow sends the signal that something is unacceptable is also a bit strange. Making procedures unpatentable would just make them more widely available wouldn't it?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:56AM (#35462594)

      Personally I don't think ethics should play a role in what is patentable.

      Then you don't understand the nature of ethics. Ethics play a role in everything we do, even by their absence.
      I'm sure that some would argue that the ethical requirement on a court is to apply simple objective tests that would reach a different conclusion to this, but that's very different from saying that ethics don't apply.

      • Mod up! Seriously, if we didn't have ethics in everything we do, we'd be in the middle of the worst recession ever. Oh, wait ...

        • by Draek (916851)

          We do have ethics in everything we do, it's just the values of some people are drastically different from yours and mine and that it so happens that those kind of people are the ones in power in this world.

          You've heard about the law that mandates publicly-traded companies to maximize profits, right? well, that one was born out of a similar ethical belief that many powerful individuals hold for themselves.

          • by sjames (1099)

            You've heard about the law that mandates publicly-traded companies to maximize profits, right? well, that one was born out of a similar ethical belief that many powerful individuals hold for themselves.

            I have heard CLAIMS about such a law as excuses for all manner of illegal and unethical practices, but I have never seen anyone actually point to that supposed law. I don't suppose you can point it out can you?

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        I'm patenting skin lampshades.
        • by wangerx (1122027)
          That would be considered a design patent, so it really doesn't count for much.
          • by Thing 1 (178996)

            That would be considered a design patent, so it really doesn't count for much.

            HAHAHA I have a design patent, and you're right. Avoid the scammers, like American Inventors Corp (now out of business). Hey! And thanks for encouraging me look them up; apparently many of their employees served jail time, so my expensive ridiculous patent now has schadenfreude built into it:

            $2.28 million. “A top executive of a former Westfield company which preyed on amateur inventors was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday, and ordered to pay up to $2.28 million to aid the company's victims. John L. Samson, 62, of Hatfield, vice president of the former American Inventors Corp., was sentenced in U.S. District by Judge Michael A. Ponsor. Samson pleaded guilty last year to counts of mail fraud, money laundering and filing a false tax return, and is one of more than two dozen American Inventors employees to plead guilty to crimes.” (“Executive sentenced in inventor scam,” Union-News, Springfield, MA, April 2, 2002)

      • by Muros (1167213)
        I'm sure the point that the AC was making, is that patents are about making inventions that further human knowledge/ability. Application of knowledge and power should always be subject to ethical review, but knowledge itself should not be.
        • Of course, quite a few people feel squeamish about using the results of experiments that Dr. Mengele and friends did...

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>Ethics play a role in everything we do, even by their absence.

        Yeah, he sounds like the nuts on Slashdot who claim that "philosophy has no relevance" to their lives, and then go on to say how they hate Corporatism, and think that everyone should be left alone by the government unless they violate someone's natural rights to life liberty and property.

      • Slavery was Ethical at one point in time. Like morals, ethics changes as society does. Many do not consider capital punishment Ethical, while some are all to happy to pull the trigger as much as they can.
    • the ethics is they don't want corrupt companies who can't implement proper safety policies doing all kinds of crap just to try and land the next big patent.

      When where talking potential... say bio-warfare.... or the cure for being Gay... then I'm sure ethics are applicable.

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        or the cure for being Gay...

        Off-topic...
        This is often stated, based on it being utterly ridiculous to concieve sexual orientation is some sort of medical condition that can be altered at will.
        I wonder what the ethics would be in the hypothetical situation where there is some sort of pill that could switch humans to being attracted to males/females/both/none/poodles/etc.

        • by St.Creed (853824) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @08:30AM (#35462978)

          or the cure for being Gay...

          Off-topic...
          This is often stated, based on it being utterly ridiculous to concieve sexual orientation is some sort of medical condition that can be altered at will.
          I wonder what the ethics would be in the hypothetical situation where there is some sort of pill that could switch humans to being attracted to males/females/both/none/poodles/etc.

          I'll take the poodle-pill. It sounds much cheaper and easier than being attracted to women.

        • which bit about

          " CORRUPT companies who CAN'T IMPLEMENT PROPER SAFETY POLICIES doing ALL KINDS OF CRAP just to TRY and land the next big patent."

          and ethics did you fail to grasp?

          I think Scientology claims to cure Gay people... all you need is one of those type of people and well .... now pretend that their doing experiments on embryos etc... get the idea now?

          and do you have any evidence that people are 'brain washed' into being Gay and not as Lady GaGa would say.. born that way.

        • ok... maybe your off-topic... but I would have said that, seeing as you topic is about ethics and medical research....

          I think the ethics would relate to the potential for abuse as opposed to someone wanting a 'sex change' type effect, since that already possible in terms of changing your body in a more apparent physical way.

          I've been told crack is known to work to a greater or lesser degree, so is poverty or a few quid for taking some pictures and putting them in a porno mag.

          So money or crack already work

      • "or the cure for being Gay"

        And once the gays are cured, would you suggest prefer medical science to focus on curing blacks, or would the jews be a better place to start?

        • by sjames (1099)

          Believe me, if big pharma could "cure" being black they would be secretly funding the KKK and neo nazis in order to maximize their market penetration.

    • by gilesjuk (604902) <.ku.oc.nez. .ta. .senoj.selig.> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @07:27AM (#35462728)

      These are techniques using the building blocks of life, not some drug they have developed. If the patented technique is close to how a human life develops then effectively that company would have a patent on human development. That is why it would be unethical and wrong.

    • by prefec2 (875483)

      If we give someone an exclusive right to use something this already involves ethics. In the 19th century humans decided it is unethical to be able to use other people inventions without a fee. So the very core of patents is based on ethics even though nowadays this concept might be outdated, there are other ethical boundaries which affect what it patentable and what is not.

      The idea of the court is, that you shall not make profit with embryos.

      • by Muros (1167213)
        This idea will always change over time, but patents have always boiled down to be about people not profiting from someone else's work. An extreme historical example of litigation against an "infringer" (of copyright, not patent, but they are similar and neither was really applicable in this example) would be St. Columbkille, who, in the 6th century in Ireland, was forced to hand over a copy of a book he had made to the owner of the book. The book in question was the christian bible, or portions thereof, wit
    • by arisvega (1414195)

      Making procedures unpatentable would just make them more widely available wouldn't it?

      Generally, perhaps. But aren't you missing the topic? Consider this:

      [BiotexCorp] "We discovered that cells taken from the brain of living human embryos and implanted to the brains of human babies do this and that."

      [Western authorities] "Say what? Where the hell did you get the babies from?"

      [BiotexCorp] "Asia. Their parents where cool with it. Can we have a patent now?"

      [Western authorities] "Of course. You must have lots of competition, what was I thinking. Here you go."

    • by Muros (1167213)
      Interesting point. If guns were invented today we'd have patents around a new way to kill someone. Morals/ethics would not come into it.
    • If something were patented it lends some kind of implicit approval to it. It also makes it less profitable to go into it, as noone would have exclusive rights.

  • we do ideas and even water(bottled) but i guess unborn people or clones is takeing it a bit to far. bought find we found a boundry to this bs.
  • by chichilalescu (1647065) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @06:56AM (#35462598) Homepage Journal

    as far as I understand it, the point of patents is to allow inventors to profit from their invention even though it's not an industrial secret. the community can benefit from understanding why the invention works, and the inventor gets back their investment, plus profit.
    there are a lot of problems with this system at the moment, because too many things are getting patented.
    there are a lot of cases where several researchers concentrate on some given problem, they publish intermediary results, and it is predictable that within some time frame most specialists will arrive at the same solution. however, only the first one to find the final result (or the first one to file for the patent) is awarded the patent. this is wrong in my view, because there is an entire community working in that direction.
    in medicine, I'm pretty confident this is the general case, and pretty much the reason there are several different but similar drugs dealing with the same medical problems.

    basically, I think patents should only be granted to individual researchers who can prove they developped a concept (on their own) based on widely available information. anything other than that is just simple research, and should be rewarded with grants or prizes by private persons/organisations, but not with a patent. "ethics" and religion should have nothing to do with patentability.

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      The basic premise on which patents are based is flawed. The patent system assumes that a given invention is invented once by a single individual or company. In reality, may inventions are invented by several people working independently around the same time. In this case, why should one person be rewarded for the invention while others are not?

      Even if people don't agree with my assertions above, the implentation of patents is broken by the very low threshold or originality required to obtain a patent.

      • The basic premise on which patents are based is flawed. The patent system assumes that a given invention is invented once by a single individual or company. In reality, may inventions are invented by several people working independently around the same time. In this case, why should one person be rewarded for the invention while others are not?

        Even if people don't agree with my assertions above, the implentation of patents is broken by the very low threshold or originality required to obtain a patent.

        You have a fundamental, but very common, misunderstanding about the primary purpose of patents. It is widely believed that patents were created for the purpose of rewarding innovative people, although it only does so for a limited time. Actually the purpose is to benefit society by encouraging the free exchange of useful innovations, the period of exclusive rights under patent is the cost society accepts in return. Without patents innovations would still 'all be developed by several people working independe

    • by kanweg (771128)

      The intermediary results count as prior art just like anything else. And to get a patent the invention has to be Novel and involve an Inventive Step over that. Sure, the final result may be something obviously desirable, but if you can't solve the problem of how to get there just by studying that intermediary literature and know what to do, then the Inventive Step is there, and a patent is warranted.

      There is a system to get rid of patents that shouldn't have been granted (called the Opposition procedure in

    • Because it makes use of embryos is not a good reason. You can make any use you like of chicken embryos, and there are only two reasons to treat human ones differently. One is superstition and the other one is abuse. Abuse is already covered by various other laws; any time you're misusing embryos or causing their production by some means we need to worry about, you're already breaking laws.

    • Another problem:
      50 companies work on attempting to get a technological breakthrough.
      One of them managed to get the breakthrough.
      They now patent the method, which by proxy blocks of all the 49 other groups. If they had submitted the patent perhaps a year later, several other companies would have made the same breakthrough independently.
      Why would they block the marked? There can only be a certain number of ways of doing stuff when we are talking about the same field, and when the start and end point is the sa

  • When they can be used as bio-energy farms. Its going to happen anyway, the machines are coming!
  • The ruling text (Score:4, Informative)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @09:01AM (#35463086) Homepage

    The preliminary ruling has been published in French and German:

    * http://www.europeandignitywatch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/ECJ/Conclusions_de_l_Avocat_General_Yves_Bot.pdf [europeandignitywatch.org]
    * http://www.europeandignitywatch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/ECJ/Schlussantraege_des_Generalanwalts_Yves_Bot.pdf [europeandignitywatch.org]

    And there's the ECJ's press release in English:
    * http://www.europeandignitywatch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/ECJ/ECJ_Press_Release.pdf [europeandignitywatch.org]

    I'm reading with interest to see if this ruling can also provide a "public interest" base for excluding software from patentability if the question ever gets to the ECJ.

  • Stem cells are beyond any argument of ethics or morals. A very strong argument can be made that humans are a filthy, worthless species and that allowing any human baby to be born is the ultimate crime against nature and any act that prevents a human from being born is the ultimate good. After all look at what human life has done to this planet and to each other as well.
    So who are these wizards who declare one thing good

  • Please remember that the European Patent Office restricts patentability of methods of medical treatment. So this is fairly nearby to a decision they already made. These public interest approach is far more common in the rest of the world than the United States.

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"

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