WARF's Stem Cell Patents and Tensions between Public and Private Sector Approaches to Research
39 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2011 Last revised: 18 Apr 2013
Date Written: July 19, 2011
Three U.S. patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) have been at the center of debates about the extent to which patents directed to human embryonic stem cells should be permitted to limit or to tax research. The story of WARF’s patents not only highlights continuing tensions between proprietary and nonproprietary approaches to developing science and technology, but also suggests an at least partly reassuring capacity of public and private sectors to render those tensions substantially manageable, frequently more so as a technology matures. In particular, the story of WARF’s patents features three leitmotifs that indicate how society might often achieve workable balances between proprietary rights and more general social interests: (1) right holders’ decisions to pursue less than full rights assertion or enforcement; (2) the ability of government and other public sector actors to help bring about such decisions through co-option or pressure; and (3) the frequent availability or development of technological alternatives that limit research bottlenecks.
Keywords: WARF, stem cell, patent
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