European court bans stem cell patents – what about Australia?

Part of a Greenpeace protest at the European Patents Office in Munich. Greenpeace brought the case that has resulted in the European ruling. AAP

The European Court of Justice has today banned patenting of stem cell inventions derived from human embryos which are capable of developing into a human being.

The court held that this exclusion from patentability is not limited to the use of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes, but also includes the use of human embryos for the purposes of scientific research.

Although the ruling follows an earlier legal opinion, it appears to have caused general dismay among scientists who now fear their research discoveries may not be commercialized into patentable inventions.

The test case was brought by Greenpeace against Oliver Brüstle, director of the Institute for Reconstructive Neurobiology at Bonn University, who holds patents on a technique involving stem cells.

The decision is sure to evoke passionate responses. But despite the criticism likely to follow, it’s useful to remember that the Court expressly left open the patentability of therapeutic or diagnostic uses for human embryos.

Here in Australia, the proposed ban on the patenting of genes and biological materials continues to be a live issue.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg Anders Gardebring via Wikimedia Commons