European Patent Office Upholds Mouse Patent

In July the European Patent Office upheld Harvard University’s patent on a genetically altered mouse. The EPO did modify the patent so that it applied only to “transgenic mice” rather than the original language of the patent which covered “transgenic rodents.”

In a press release announcing the decision, the EPO said,

As a result of an appeal decision, European patent EP 0 169 672, better-known as the “Oncomouse” patent, has been further restricted.

In 1985 the President and Fellows of Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, applied for a European patent entitled “Method for producing transgenic animals”. The patent was granted in May 1992 in respect of “non-human mammalian animals” for eleven member states of the European Patent Organisation.

Seventeen oppositions against the patent, filed in 1992 and 1993, led to the decision in November 2001 to maintain the patent in respect of “transgenic rodents”. Several appeals against that decision lodged in March 2003 were heard by the Technical Board of Appeal which decided to restrict the patent further to “transgenic mice”.

Greenpeace and a number of other organizations had filed the challenges, seeking to have the EPO overturn the validity of patenting animals altogether. Jan Creamer of Great Britain’s National Anti-Vivisection Society said of the ruling,

. . .patenting life should be wrong. You’re not producing a product that will make a difference.

Harvard University’s Philip Leder, who was one of the co-creator’s of the Oncomouse, disagreed, telling The Scientist,

This is the organism that has the greatest utility. I’m pleased to have the matter resolved.

Dupont, which holds the licensing rights to the mouse, has issued 170 licenses for academic research on the mouse. It charges licensing fees for commercial uses of the patented mouse.


EPO restricts OncoMouse patent. Paula Park, The Scientist, July 26, 2004.

Technical Board of Appeal restricts “Oncomouse” patent. Press Release, European Patent Office, July 6, 2004.

Europe upholds Harvard Mouse patent. Associated Press, July 7, 2004.

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