Greenpeace welcomes European Court of Justice ruling on stem cells patents

Press release - 18 October, 2011
Luxembourg, 18th October 2011 - Greenpeace welcomes today’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision that cells derived from human embryos cannot be patented, as patents on such cells would encourage the commercialization of human embryos.

Today’s court's decision relates to a dispute between Greenpeace and stem cell researcher Oliver Brüstle. In 2004, Greenpeace challenged the German patent on the production and use of human embryonic stem cells in order to force the courts to examine the ethical boundaries of patenting.

“By blocking the patenting and commercialization of human embryos the European Court of Justice has today strengthened the protection of human life against commercial interests within the EU", said Greenpeace International senior campaigner Lasse Bruun. “We hope that national patent offices follow the ECJ decision, by not granting patents on human embryonic cells”.

Since 2006, the European Patent Office no longer grants patents on human embryonic stems cells - national patent offices, which still grant patents on human embryonic cells, must now adapt their practices. However, the decision will affect stem cell research only partially, as in recent years, researchers have found several alternative methods for obtaining stem cells, without the need to destroy human embryos.


Dr. Christoph Then, Greenpeace patents expert on +49 151546 38 040

For more details, see (in German):


- The German patent office grants patent nr.  DE 19756864 in 1999. It covers the production and use of human embryonic stem cells. According to the patent description such stem cells were also to be gained through cloning of human embryos.

- Greenpeace challenged the patent in 2004 at the Bundespatentgericht (Federal Patent Court) in order to force the courts to examine the ethical boundaries of patentabilities. The European Patent Directive explicitly excludes (prohibits) patents the commercialisation of human embryos. The Bundespatentgericht affirms most of Greenpeace's challenge. The patent owner appeals the decision. In November 2009 the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal High Court) refers the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify the definition of "human embryo".