On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice announced a ruling that denies patents on stem cell research. While it does not disallow scientists from conducting this type of research, it does prevent them from getting patents on stem cell research techniques in Europe. As a result of this ruling, companies will be less likely to invest in new techniques for conducting stem cell research, since the research can be copied without patent protection. Patents on such research will still be available elsewhere in the world, since this decision affects only European scientists. Stem cell research involves obtaining cells from embryos that are left over from fertility treatments and have been donated. Removing the stem cells destroys the embryo, and the cells can then become other cells in the body and be used to treat degenerative diseases. Greenpeace, the organization that objected to the patent in this case, indicated that while it is “not against research on human embryonic stem cells,” it is against “the commercialization of the human body.” What do you think? Is stem cell research conducted with donated embryos really “commercialization of the human body”?
I think it is a shame that the EU has denied patents on stem cell research. While it is true that this law does not prohibit stem cell research within the EU, the ban pretty much has the same effect as outlawing it altogether- no one will want to perform stem cell research in the EU if they cannot patent their results. Not allowing the patents means that the researchers will not be able to make money from their research, and without this incentive, the future for stem cell research in the EU appears dim.
However, looking on the bright side, one could possibly forecast that perhaps all of these smart and insightful stem-cell researchers will take their research elsewhere, and develop stem cell patents where they are not prohibited. This could mean that researchers may instead take their patents to the United States, one of many countries with no such bans.
While this scenario does not seem very likely, as I would assume most researchers will not be willing to travel across continents to do their research and/or patents, hopefully this will be the case.
With an influx of researchers developing stem cell patents in the US, we could possibly foresee new medicines and cures in the future to treat many debilitating diseases and human conditions.
I do understand why this ruling upsets so many people, since it really is unlikely that companies would be unwilling to invest in research if they aren’t allowed to get a patent and recoup their spending. However, the benefit to this system is that it creates a form of open-source research. Without patents to block them, anyone can have access to the research and anyone can contribute to it. This would allow many different people to work together and collaborate at once, and would allow the project to progress at a much faster rate than would otherwise happen. Also, more eyes and hands helping means that it is less likely that an error will slip by unnoticed or an idea will be overlooked.