- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Adding another layer to the contentious debate over cloning in Congress, a patent watchdog group said last week that the University of Missouri at Columbia has received a patent for technology that can be used to clone human beings.
The patent covers laboratory procedures for creating cloned mammals, but it extends to the direct products of those cloning processes, including humans, said Peter DiMauro, director of Patent Watch.
"It says 'mammals' and it doesn't have a disclaimer for humans," said Mr. DiMauro, whose project tracks patents for the International Center for Technology Assessment.
University officials said the patent, issued last year, was never intended to apply to human beings. It was issued to a university researcher and applied to technology that allows the cloning of swine.
"The intent of the patent was to allow for research on swine," said Missouri spokeswoman Mary Joe Banken, who said school officials are meeting today to discuss narrowing the patent's language to exclude humans. "It was never the intent of the university to use the technology on humans."
Mr. DiMauro said he respects that, "but the flaw is in the law."
The Senate is awaiting a debate on the human-cloning issue. Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, has a bill to outlaw the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, including for medical research. The House has passed an identical bill and the president is pushing for it.
Mr. DiMauro said his group has found three pending patents similar to that in Missouri. He called on Congress to clarify in law that patents cannot apply to human beings including human embryos or fetuses.
Mr. Brownback said he will introduce legislation this week to do so.
"The central point in the debate over human cloning revolves around our view of the human embryo and whether or not the human embryo is a person or a piece of property," Mr. Brownback said. "If we allow for the patenting of human embryos, we will be sending the message that humans are property and that they can be exploited and destroyed for profit."
A bill competing with Mr. Brownback's cloning ban, by Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and others, would outlaw the implantation of a cloned human embryo in a uterus but would allow the human-cloning procedure to be done for medical research, including the extraction of stem cells. Advocates of this approach say the cloning procedure does not produce a human embryo, since no sperm is involved.
Patent Watch's DiMauro said the Specter-Feinstein cloning bill contains "nothing to address the large scale commercialization of human embryos created through cloning."
He said it "seems to permit the status quo of the law, which is to allow the patenting of human embryos."
When asked whether scientists would be able to obtain patents on their human-cloning research under her bill, Mrs. Feinstein said she did not know because her bill does not deal with the patent issue.
"I do not know; I cannot answer that," she said.


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