(CN) - Biotech companies can patent stem cell-producing eggs as long as they cannot be genetically manipulated into becoming a human embryo, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
International Stem Cell Corp. applied to the U.K. patent office to protect its technology that produces nonembryonic stem cells from chemically or electronically activated eggs. Patent authorities rejected the applications on grounds that a 2010 European Court of Justice ruling bars patenting any biotechnology that is or could develop into a human embryo.
The company appealed, claiming that a human embryo could never develop because its technology never injects paternal DNA into the eggs. The British high court asked the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice to weigh in on whether unfertilized eggs can be considered embryos once manipulated into activity through ISC's processes, into organisms known as parthenotes.
Agreeing with an adviser's opinion issued earlier this year, the EU high court ruled Thursday that in order for a nonfertilized human egg to be considered an embryo, it "must necessarily have the inherent capacity of developing into a human being."
"Consequently, where a nonfertilized human ovum does not fulfill that condition, the mere fact that that organism commences a process of development is not sufficient for it to be regarded as a 'human embryo' within the meaning and for the purposes of the application of EU law," the Luxembourg-based court wrote.
Under current scientific understanding, a human parthenote isn't capable of beginning the process of development to become a human being, the court said in its 5-page ruling.
The court declined to weigh in on whether science may someday coax the parthenotes into becoming full-fledged human beings.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.