Stem-Cell Use Gets EU Boost as Court Seen Skipping Sci-Fi

International Stem Cell Corp. won a ruling at the European Union’s top court that lawyers described as a victory for stem-cell research in the 28-nation bloc.

The use of organisms in stem-cell research that are incapable of developing into a human being can be patented, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled today.

The decision “walks a clear line to exclude the sci-fi horrors of the abuse of human embryos whilst allowing the use of techniques to generate stem cells which may alleviate much human misery,” said Jason Rutt, head of patents at the industry consulting firm Rouse in London. “It seems a very sensible position.”

A non-fertilized egg in research must be considered a human embryo and cannot be patented if it has “the inherent capacity of developing into a human being,” the EU court said. Still, in cases where an “ovum commences a process of development” that is “not sufficient for it to be regarded as a human embryo” a patent may be granted for industrial or commercial purposes.

This ruling “is a real triumph for stem-cell research,” said Adam Cooke, a partner at DLA Piper U.K. LLP in London, which represents International Stem Cell. “The reasoning is clear and crisp.”

Under an EU law from 1998, research methods that involve human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes can’t be patented. A U.K. court referred the case to the EU tribunal to further define the scope of what consists a human embryo.

Today’s ruling helps determine whether International Stem Cell will get a U.K. patent on a process to extract stem cells based on unfertilized human eggs, which the Carlsbad, California-based company argued shouldn’t be considered a human embryo. A 2011 EU court ruling clarified that European law bans patents in stem-cell research that involve human embryos.

The case is: C-364/13, International Stem Cell Corporation v. Comptroller General of Patents.

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