California's voter-approved stem cell research institute cleared a roadblock Monday when a University of Wisconsin alumni group said it would not seek to collect licensing fees on discoveries made with institute grants.
Proposition 71, passed in 2004, created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and all but promised taxpayers royalties in return for approving $3 billion in bonds for research. A move to collect fees out of any royalties would likely have led to a court battle.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation claims sweeping patent rights to all embryonic stem cell lines in the United States because it contends that a University of Wisconsin researcher was the first to successfully isolate such cells.
Pending litigation brought by taxpayer and religious groups already has kept the state from issuing bonds, leaving the institute to operate so far on donations and loans.
Scientists nationwide have complained that the overly broad patents stifle human embryonic stem cell research. In July, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit group, filed a challenge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The Wisconsin foundation's announcement on Monday read, in part, that it does not expect the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to remit "any portion of payment that [it] receives from its grantees."
The institute responded with a brief and cautious statement: "The announcement today by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation appears to be a major step forward in facilitating the sharing and accessibility of materials that will move stem cell research closer to therapies and cures."
John Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights declared partial victory.
"While I welcome this step forward, the best thing would be for [the Wisconsin foundation] to abandon its claims to these overreaching patents that are recognized nowhere else in the world," he said.