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« Representatives Oppose President's Attempt to Reduce Data Exclusivity Period | Main | News from Abroad: No More Patents for Cells Derived from Human Embryos in EU »

October 18, 2011


"It is hard to understand how advocating such an outcome can be considered the more moral position."

Kevin, as an undergraduate chemistry major I found little that I learned in class that I could readily share with non-scientists as being applicable to daily life. Thermodynamic versus kinetic control of chemical reactions was the big exception, because it can be thought of as short-term-gain (or path of least resistance) overcoming long-term-gain - and that's something we see all the time. It explains the behavior of politicians in most situations, and I think it explains those who militate against embryonic stem cell research at the expense of ultimately saving lives.

Not that that observation makes things any less frustrating for those of us who support this kind of research. I wonder if the EU will change its tune when its scientists who want to do embryonic stem cell research start moving to friendlier jurisdictions.

I disagree with the moral reason for ineligibility here, as I think being human tissue is irrelevant. Rather, the ethical issue that's really at stake is the patent-eligibility of products of nature, as I argue here and elsewhere: http://nanowares.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/logic-apparently-off-limits-in-the-law/ Unfortunately, the courts and patent offices are too deeply invested in the illogic of "isolation" as invention to change that now. Moreover, unlike the Bush ban on stem cell research funding by the US govt., at least this leaves the door open for all the research and commercialization, just without the benefit of a monopoly.

Not sure the laboratory idea works, Kevin. All this does is reduce the size of the world market where the patent owner enjoys protection.

Whether the stem cell research takes place in Paris, France or Paris, Virginia, the invention can be patented in the USA but not in Europe.

Dear Anon:

True, but there should be an exodus of stem cell commercialization to countries that protect the IP if IP matters, and less so (or the reverse) if it does not.

We shall see (although being human behavior there are a wealth of confounding variables that could influence the outcome).

Thanks for the comment.

Mr Noonan (and Mr Feigelson as well),

from a pro-life scientist's point of view, "the more moral position" is clear enough when one puts himself in the position of the "human embryo understood in the wide sense".

Sacrificing one in the process of acquiring stem cells must not be done without one's own will for the sacrifice - like e.g. organ donors do, sacrifice themselves eith their own free will for the sake of improving human condition (and this would also be morally questionable if the donor would have to be destroyed in the process!)

Why would this apply to embryos - haven't we all been embryos once? Should we not want every single embryo on this world to become what we are now? Is it actually (or morally, if you will) our decision to make?

I think not; that's why I am so relieved to hear such a verdict from the ECJ, understood in the wide sense as I've widen it here...

Dear Dr. Bulat:

Unfortunately, these decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. Human ESCs are (predominantly) derived from embtryos that would otherwise be discarded. Thus, using them to make hESCs that might cure disease seems a better outcome than destroying them.

Thanks for the comment.


Dr. Bulat's view is not in a vacuum.

The moral dilemma that is avoided is that one does not create the business condition that drives a profit from a bad thing (and thus ensures MORE of the bad thing).

Sure, it is a shame that embryos may be discarded. It is FAR more a shame to make a profit from that discarding and thus WANT to "discard" them, or create a sustained "need" (i.e. business need) to keep (and proliferate) the "discarding" by creating the end-point profit motive.

It is a far better MORAL outcome (granted, the assumption of this particular MORAL is accepted) that the business proposition is detroyed at a nascent stage (yes - the play on words is intended), even if some minor good is lost.

Sorry, Skeptical, meant to get back to this.

I agree that a system where embyros are processed (as in Brave New World) for stem cells could be a bad one, especially if some form of economic coercion was applied.

But I don't think that "profit" is the answer, since the patient who benefits from proposed stem cell treatments certainly "profits" as much (and in some ways more than) the purveyor of the stem cell cure. And, to sound like Congress, the President or the FTC, we all benefit if stem cell treatments reduce morbidity, mortality and the cost of long-term care for currently intractable diseases.

This is especially true if the hESCs come from embryos "left over" from IVF procedures. it is also true for those families that have another child hoping to get a "close enough" genetic match for a sick child who needs a transplant - while having a child is a very personal decision, having a child merely to reap that child's stem cells isn't (in my view) a better outcome than producing an embryo and harvesting the stem cells.

But this posits that these decisions remain personal (your own eggs and sperm) or eleemosynary, not industrial. I agree that any regulations on the industry should be directed towards preventing that outcome.

Of course, there is a book entitled "Red Markets" that has another, opposite take on charitable organ donation, but that's a discussion for another post.

Just to make clear, the opposition's stand in this debate is that embryos should not be produced (IVF or any other way other than the copulatory one, for which the term "conceived" is then more appropriate). Period.

Everything then deriving from the sad fact that embryos are being "produced" and most of them then scheduled to be "discarded" musn't be considered as a point to use for "greater good" - since there's something bad (production instead of conceiving) in the roots of this perceived good, as a result there would (will) be negative consequences for everyone involved (this is not a curse, but a logically derived fact).

Therefore, opposed to your opinion, Kevin and others who are against the Court's ruling, the only good in this whole embryo debate is to finally grant them (the embryos) that they are human and thus cannot be subject to any unwilling procedure that could lead to their destruction or to any commercialization what I dearly hope this ruling is a corner stone for.

This might sound like utopist or reactionary idea to you (like you suggest with the implication of my alleged vacuum approach that I think I've never given reason to imply) while the fruits of embryo enginering are at hand, but I believe that this is the only path to the good of everyone, including the sick child you mention in your answer to Skeptical. This opinion of mine is still a bit difficult to support by scientific evidence other than philosophy, ethics and logic, but time will show because stem cell research is still at its beginning and there are still many questions so we need to take more time and slow down in order not to make mistakes.

Dear Dr. Bulat:

Rules of categorical exclusion have a long history in our species, especially when purportedly based on morality. I respect your decision/opinion that anything that destroys an embryo is anathema, but I think it misguided in a world where sick men, women and children exist and could be helped by stem cell medicine. Most Western countries permit abortion at a woman's choice without any reason other than the recognition that any other regime would enslave her to her biology against her will. How much less "moral" is it to permit stem cells to be harvested from embryos destined for the scrap heap (unless you believe that such embryos should be maintained for all time in a state of suspended animation; I'm not sure that is not just as horrible a prospect).

And remember, if history has taught us anything it is that "morality" is a shifting sand that differs from culture to culture and century to century. But death and disability are real and present, and I think we have an obligation to the living to do what we can to reduce the incidence of both.

Thanks for the comment.

Not to open a can of worms, but Dr. Noonan, a woman's choice of abortion being equated to as you put it: "enslave her to her biology against her will" is offensive. The "will" was to engage in an act of procreation. The woman had all the "will" she will ever have at that point. To dissassociate the "will" at that point to a result of that will is not acceptable. There is no "enslaving" in making people accountable for their choices.

I recognize that this is not a legal position, but I am compelled to state it in rebuttal to your comment, which is just as much NOT a legal position. The argument of "enslavement" is an emotional ploy. Let's keep the big picture facts straight.

There is a bigger issue though to be discussed here: that morality is a shifting sand - the concept itself that morality is relativistic is NOT a conclusion that can be blindly accepted. Yes, views on what moral standards should be applied can shift - but morality itself is decidely NOT something that should be shifted hither and non. Relativistic morality MUST be (and I realize how trite this may come across), MUST be aligned with the Nazi debacle, because it was relativistic morality that serves as the credibility cornerstone of all the Nazi atrocities.

We as a society, as a race, simply CANNOT accept the shifting sands argument.

Dear Skeptical:

I truly didn't mean to offend or raise the emotional level of the debate. Let me try to say what I mean another way:

The choice of whether it is more moral to provide stem cell therapies or protect embryos is one about which people can differ, just like the choice of maintaining or terminating a pregnancy - it is a personal choice (within limits). And cultures differ on how to make that choice - Nazi Germany is not the paradigm. Indeed, that exception probes the rule in this case.

My point is that there are many grounds for making policy, and my moral compass or yours shouldn't be what we use - the political tyrrany of the majority is bad enough without making it a moral tyrrany as well. If we are to look for objective grounds for making policy, it seems to me that the greatest good - treating sick members of our society who have illnesses that cannot be addressed by other means - using resources that will be destroyed otherwise is a sensible choice.

I agree that coercion or true industrialization of the process is not in society's interest, and hence the "Brave New World" reference. But there are plenty of ways to preclude a slide down the perceived slippery slope other than an outright, categorical ban. Such bans are too inflexible and too prone to prevent objective discussions of the pros and cons of societal policy, particularly in a heterogeneous society where personal morals will differ. I think making choices for all of us based on what some (or even most) of us think is "moral" is the wrong way to approach those questions.

But I also realize that reasonable people can differ. Thanks for the discussion.

Dr. Noonan,

Thank you for stepping back from the abortion/enslavement discussion point.

However, the larger discussion of shifting sands still does not sit comfortably with me. You paint having a moral compass as the same as imposing moral tyranny. I would respond that without a compass, (and while not a paradigm), Nazi Germany still slides comfortably into position. "The greater good" and "some people benefit" (in fact some people plus many) where justifications used under Nazi Germany for its relativisitic moral position. The slope is steeper and more slippier than you have indicated.

I disagree that moral positions cannot tolerate "objective" discussions and cringe at the semi-polemic of "heterogeneous society" which to me is simply a cop-out (How heterogeneous is STILL a decision to make - we do not accept pedophile philosophies, even though there is an "objective" group of people that would have our society accept such repugnant views).

We must and do draw the line somewhere, and the ideal of moral relativism means an arbitrary and meaningless place is drawn - IF AT ALL.

I too realize that reasonable people can and do differ. We will not resolve this issue here - but i do want to strongly frame the issue "appropriately" (and yes, my "appropriately" will differ from yours).

Also, on another thread I made the comment about seeing you on the Prior User Rights USPTO teleconference. Will you be writing an article on that soon? I would love to have your impression of the speakers (especially the early ones whom I missed).

I co-sign Skeptical's posts so I won't let the worms out of the can too far. I would just like to thank Mr. Noonan for the debate and the article as well.

I've strayed to this blog in search for a pro-life comment on the ECJ decision, but here I found even more - a respectful exchange of opinions, so thank you all for that.

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