My first reaction when I heard the news was “are you kidding?” I am sure you will agree too! Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk — once a scientist with rock-star like status for his claim that he had created the world’s first cloned human embryos and had extracted stem cells from them, and later found to have doctored data about the “breakthrough”–has been awarded a US patent for the fraudulent research. The issuance of the patent to Dr. Hwang has left scientists dumbfounded for obvious reasons.
“Shocked, that’s all I can say,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University. Daniel B. Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, said that it only goes on to prove that the Patent Office “is a rubber-stamp, fee-motivated government agency.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted the patent, No. 8,647,872. The patent covers a human embryonic cell line derived through cloning and the methods for creating that line. And here’s what the agency has to say. The patent is “definitely not an assertion by the U.S. government that everything he (Dr. Hwang) is claiming is accurate,” the U.S.P.T.O. spokesman, Patrick Ross, said.
The whole system is said to work on an honor code. The agency, as explained by Ross, knew Hwang’s history and still approved his application, after ensuring the claimed invention complied with US patent standard. Dr. Hwang now heads the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation outside Seoul. He still maintains his previous claims that the cell line was indeed cloned, and expects the American patent to help him in once again pursuing human cloning for therapeutic purposes.