15.1 The Terms of Reference require the ALRC to consider the impact of current patenting laws and practices related to ‘genes and genetic and related technologies’. One such group of technologies relates to stem cells. Many of the concerns that have been expressed about gene patents apply to the patenting of stem cell technologies. As stem cell research progresses, and as understanding about the potential application of stem cell technologies improves, the role of patents in the commercialisation of such research is likely to receive more attention.

15.2 The first part of this chapter provides an overview of stem cell science. The approach to the patentability of inventions involving stem cell technologies under Australian law is then compared to legal developments in the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. The chapter also examines concerns that have been raised about access to stem cell lines and licensing practices involving patented stem cell technologies.