A European Patent Office (EPO) tribunal in Munich heard a dispute Tuesday on whether a method of growing embryonal human stem cells can be patented, but gave no date for its decision on the controversial case.
US scientist James Thomson, who in 1998 was the first in the world to cultivate such stem cells, is appealing to EPO's highest board over the refusal to grant a patent in the European Union for the so-called WARF stem cell.
Critics say that patenting the method is tantamount to patenting the live human cells themselves.
After hearing the arguments, the board said it would not need to continue the hearing Wednesday as originally planned. EPA spokesman Rainer Osterwalder said he expected the board to rule before Europe's summer holidays.
The patent application by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) was filed in 1995.
The application described a method by which primate stem cells derived from an embryo could be maintained in test-tubes for a long period of time without losing their potential to differentiate into any cell of the body.
One of the main reasons for the EPO refusal was that the method used a human embryo which was destroyed in the process.
Justin Turner, the lawyer for WARF, told EPO's supreme judiciary body, the seven-member Enlarged Board of Appeal, "There are no grounds whatever to deny a patent for embryonal stem cells."
He said EPO guidelines prevented patenting human embryos themselves, but not the cells derived from them.
EPO defended its refusal, saying an embryo had clearly been used and EPO rules obliged the Munich based office to protect the human dignity of the embryo.
Source: The Earth News