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Research, Exploitation and Patenting in the Area of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Europe – A Case of Concern Causing Inconsistency

  • Joseph Straus (a1)


Research on human embryonic stem cells, their exploitation and patenting is a highly controversial issue. This contribution provides for some basic understanding of technologies involved. It discusses ethical issues and legal rules dealing with the research and exploitation of stem cells in Europe. Moreover, it presents and analyses in some detail the statutory provisions of the EU in dealing with the patenting of human embryonic stem cells and the interpretation and application of those rules by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Finally, the resulting inconsistencies of the system as applied are critically analysed and a suggestion how to resolve them offered.



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20.European Court of Justice (ECJ) Judgment in Case C-377/98 – Kingdom of the Netherlands, supported by Italian Republic and by Kingdom of Norway v. European Parliament and Council of the European Union, supported by Commission of the European Communities [2001] ECR I-7079 at para. 70.
21.ECJ Judgment in Case C-377/98 at paras. 37 and 38.
22.ECJ Judgment in Case C-456/03 – Commission of the European Community v. Italian Republic, [2005] ECR I-5335 at para. 78.
23.In the case Evans v. United Kingdom, ECHR explicitly found: ‘… in the absence of any European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life, the issue of when the right to life begins comes within the margin of appreciation which the Court generally considers that States should enjoy in this sphere. Under English law … an embryo does not have independent rights or interests and cannot claim – or have claimed on its behalf – a right to life under Article 2’ Judgment of 7 March 2006, application No. 6339/05, confirmed by decision of the Grand Chamber of 10 April 2010 (No. 46). Cf. A. Plomer, Human Dignity, Human Rights and Article 6 (1) of the EU Directive on Biotechnological Inventions, in: A. Plomer and P. Torremans (Eds.) (2009) Towards commonality? Policy approaches to human embryonic stem cell research in Europe. In: Embryonic Stem Cell Patents, European Law and Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 203 (at 222–223).
24.For the sake of completeness only, it should be noted that CJEU in its judgment, by and large, followed the line of arguments, which the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) in applying the Rules of Implementing Regulations to the EPC, which correspond to the respective provisions of the Directive, laid down in 2008 in its decision Use of Embryos/WARF (OJ EPO 2009, 306), by which the 1998 pioneering invention of James Thompson from the University of Wisconsin was rejected.
25. 447 US 303, at 308310 (1980) – Diamond v. Chakrabarty.
26. Whittaker, P. (2007) Human embryonic stem cell patents: a European perspective. Journal of Intellectual Property Rights, 20, pp. 3037.
27.ECJ Judgment in Case C-377/98 at para. 79.


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