European regulators refuse patent for embryo invention

The European authority responsible for granting patents has rejected an application from a company working with stem cells because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

The European Patent Office (EPO) has upheld an original ruling made in June, confirming that “European patent law prohibits the patenting of human stem cell cultures whose preparation necessarily involves the destruction of human embryos”.

The EPO’s decisions are based on the European Patent Convention, which bans the granting of patents for inventions “whose commercial exploitation would be contrary to public order or morality”.

It specifically prohibits patents on uses of human embryos “for industrial or commercial purposes”.

The ruling could prove a serious blow to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the company which applied for the patent.

Although rules on the use of human embryos in Europe vary from country to country, many nations retain strict rules on how they can be used.

Many of these have their roots in the Geneva Convention Code of Medical Ethics, which was adopted in 1948 in the wake of Nazi eugenics and the Nuremberg trials.

It originally included the following statement: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat. I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”

MPs opposing the recent liberalisation of the laws surrounding embryology warned that the UK was in danger of becoming a “rogue state” in this area compared with the rest of Europe.

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