Disgraced gene scientist Hwang Woo-suk is getting a shot at redemption with his former employer, Seoul National University (SNU) transferring him ownership of his disputed work.
Hyun Sang-hwan, Hwang's colleague at the Sooam Biotech Research Center, confirmed that SNU had handed over the intellectual property rights for Hwang's claimed inventions in human stem cell research to H-Bion, a biotech company Hwang established in May last year.
SNU announced last month on its decision to withdraw patent applications related to Hwang's work and said it would consider transferring the rights to local companies or institutions seeking to continue research.
The school's business foundation had applied for patents on Hwang's technologies in 11 countries, including the Untied States and Australia, in June and July of 2006. However, SNU fired Hwang later in the year after his studies on cloned human stem cells were deemed as fraudulent.
According to Korean law, intellectual property rights for inventions produced by employees of national universities belong to the state. Thus, the patents that had been reviewed by patent authorities overseas were filed under SNU's name, with Hwang listed as one of the 19 inventors, which put the university in the awkward position of representing someone it had expelled.
Monday's deal allows Hwang to keep the patent applications alive under the name of H-Bion. In selling the ownership of Hwang's work to H-Bion, SNU was paid 140 million won, identical to the amount of money spent by the school in applying for the patents, a source said.
Hwang reached a rare rock-star status for a scientist in 2005 by claiming to have created cloned embryos from patient-specific embryonic stem cells. Although the study was later exposed as containing fake data, Hwang continues to insist that his technology is legitimate.
The patent application filed in the 11 countries relates to a human embryonic stem cell line, NT-1, that Hwang claimed to have generated through somatic cell nuclear transfer in a separate study in 2004. His work was published by peer-review journal Science.
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