Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Europe Upholds Patent on Altered Mouse - The European Patent Office on Tuesday upheld a Harvard University patent on a mouse genetically altered to develop cancer, but restricted its wording so that it applies only to mice and not to all species of rodents.

The pan-European patent, granted in 1992, protects the method of producing the animals. But the ruling, which closes a years-long legal battle with environmental groups, added further qualifications to a 2001 ruling that limited the patent to rodents, rather than mammals in general.

The patent office acknowledged concerns about ethical questions and animal rights, but also said the medical uses of the patent must be weighed.

A collection of church, environmental and animal protection groups, among them Greenpeace, had argued for the patent to be canceled, saying that it violated the dignity of living beings. After the 2001 ruling, six organizations filed an appeal.

Greenpeace spokesman Christopher Then welcomed the restriction as an "important partial success," but expressed regret that the European Patent Office hadn't backed off recognizing patents for mammals.

The development of the mouse was intended to ease research and treatment of tumors in humans.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted a patent to the Harvard mouse in 1988, the first "transgenic" animal patent to be granted.

The patent from the Munich-based European Patent Office is valid in 11 European countries.

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