The German Federal Supreme Court Decides About Patentability of Neural Precursor Cells

In a decision of November 27, 2012 (X ZR 58/07) the German Federal Supreme Court decided about a patent concerning neural precursor cells and their therapeutic use to treat neural defects in man and animals. Upon reference to the European Court of Justice, the latter has decided (C-34/10-Brüstle/Greenpeace) that any human ovum as of its fertilization is a “human embryo” in the meaning of directive 98/44/EU and that the exclusion from patentability also encompasses the use of human embryos even if this use is not mentioned in the description of the claimed technical teaching provided that the technical teaching requires the previous destruction of human embryos or their use as a starting material. The German Federal Supreme Court has invalidated the patent to the extent that precursor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells are encompassed, the extraction of which has required the destruction of embryos. The patent, however, has been maintained to the extent that human embryonic stem cells are extracted by other methods. The German Federal Supreme Court further concluded that the use of human embryonic stem cells is not the use of embryos in the meaning of the directive because stem cells alone do not have the capability to start the process of the development of a human being. This decision is hence essentially in line with previous case law of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO on the same issue.