Munich, 07 Apr 2004
"Method for vitrification of a biological specimen"
Munich, 5 April 2004 -
European patent EP-B-01121015 was granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) on 26.11.2003. It concerns a method for storing deep-frozen biological specimens which remain viable after thawing. Examples of such specimens given in the patent include embryos, sperm, oocytes, morulae and blastocysts.
The patent proprietors are two US private individuals. The patent is valid in 19 of the 28 contracting states of the European Patent Organisation.
According to the patent specification, the biological specimens are deep-frozen through direct exposure to a freezing material (e.g. liquid nitrogen). This causes "vitrification" - a particular method of cryopreservation in which the specimen is cooled extremely quickly to very low temperatures so that the water in the specimen takes on a glass-like structure without undergoing crystallisation.
Storage of oocytes, embryos and sperm is useful in reproductive medicine, eg for artificial insemination, and many researchers are working to improve the existing preservation techniques.
The claims, which primarily determine this patent's scope, are directed to deep-freezing methods, the resulting products, and the necessary medical kit.
Patentability of biotechnological inventions
Biotechnological inventions are, in principle, patentable. This is made clear in the European Patent Convention (EPC), which forms the legal basis for the granting of patents by the EPO, and in the EU bio-patent directive ( 98/44/EC ) which, following a decision by the EPO member states, has been incorporated into the EPC since September 1999. Inventions whose exploitation would be contrary to ordre public or morality are excluded from patentability.
A granted patent confers on the owner merely the right to exclude third parties from exploiting the patented invention. It does not confer on the owner the right to use the invention if there are legal provisions prohibiting this.
Opposing a granted European patent
The EPC provides for anyone to oppose an EPO patent within nine months of grant. The opposition has to be filed in writing and the reasons have to be stated. An opposition covers all the contracting states in which the European patent is valid. In opposition proceedings involving the opponents and the patent owner, an EPO opposition division decides whether the contested patent is to be maintained, amended or revoked. The opposition division normally comprises three technically qualified examiners. In specific cases, a lawyer can be added.
The opposition division decides, in a quasi-judicial procedure based on the EPC, whether the contested patent is to be maintained, amended or revoked. Its decision can be contested in second-instance proceedings before one of the EPO's technical boards of appeal. About 6% of the European patents granted each year are opposed.
The EPO's activities are made as transparent as possible. Once a European patent application has been published, anyone can inspect the file online and thereby follow the entire grant proceedings. The file contains the communications issued by the EPO, the applicant's replies and any amendments made to the application. File inspection is possible online via the epoline® service. The file for European patent EP-B-01121015 can be inspected at
Access to all published European patent applications and patents is also available free-of-charge on the Internet via esp@cenet®.
Further information for journalists:
European Patent Convention
The European Patent Office grants patents solely on the basis of the European Patent Convention. The EPC provides for patent applications to be processed according to a single grant procedure. Under the EPC, patents can be granted only for inventions that are new, inventive and industrially applicable.
Who can file a European patent application?
Any person or company can file an application for a European patent (Article 58 EPC). The entitlement to apply for European patents is therefore unrestricted. Whether a patent is actually granted is decided in the course of the examination procedure.
EPO examination procedure
Under the European patent grant procedure, applications are examined to see whether or not they are patentable. In contrast to the procedure in some countries where patents are merely registered, the EPC stipulates a thorough examination of patent applications. A European patent is granted only after the EPO has examined whether the substantive and formal requirements have been met.
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