The global intellectual property landscape of induced pluripotent stem cell technologies

Journal name:
Nature Biotechnology
Year published:
Published online

Will freedom to research and innovate be restricted as the induced pluripotent stem cell field advances toward the clinic, or are concerns premature within a rapidly changing ecosystem?

At a glance


  1. Broad iPSC technology patent landscape.
    Figure 1: Broad iPSC technology patent landscape.

    The five white 'snow-capped' peaks indicate technology areas of high patent activity: cell culture (including cell selection and characterization techniques), spinal injury, cancer (involving cancer cells, inhibiting teratoma formation or research intended as a therapeutic indication toward cancer), reprogramming methodologies and patent documents that cite gene therapy or tissue engineering purposes. Each dot represents a patent. The stronger the correlation of automatically clustered terminology within a contour, the higher the elevation of related patents. The patent map, generated using Thomson Innovation software, provides a representative overview of the original raw patent collection before it was cleaned to remove patents that do not directly claim iPSCs as a central aspect of the patented invention. This initial raw data set of 1,388 patent families with 4,651 total documents comprises both granted and pending applications from 1 September 2006 to 31 December 2013. (Source: Thomson Reuters)

  2. Trends in iPSC patent document filings.
    Figure 2: Trends in iPSC patent document filings.

    (a) The number of total patented inventions filed for iPSC technologies has increased each year since 2006, peaking in 2012. (b) National contributions to iPSC invention by earliest priority country. The United States dominates the fundamental technology platforms in the field, followed by Japan, as could be predicted on the basis of technology origin and subsequent national focus. China and the Republic of Korea significantly contribute in addition to the European Patent Office and the United Kingdom.

  3. The distribution of ownership origination shows a fragmented landscape with public-sector dominance and a growing cottage biotech industry.
    Figure 3: The distribution of ownership origination shows a fragmented landscape with public-sector dominance and a growing cottage biotech industry.

    (a) Breakdown of sector participation in iPSC R&D shows a significant number of iPSC patents in government, nonprofit and academic institutions (58%). The public sector dominance is unsurprising for emerging technologies. However, 34% corporate ownership indicates that this field has started to actively privatize at an early stage. (b) Distribution of patented inventions among patent holder organizations. The domination of lower-value patent portfolio holdings shows a large number of smaller players in the sector, indicating that the 34% corporate face of iPSC patent ownership is composed largely of small biotechnology companies. The thin distribution of patent ownership reveals a highly fragmented landscape. (c) The ten leading organizations, determined on the basis of overall patent-document numbers for iPSC inventions, shows Kyoto University as the top iPSC patent holder (both for overall applications and granted patents). Despite the overall dominance of the United States, Japan has two institutions, Kyoto University and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, in the top ten organizations for iPSC inventions, in addition to the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health in China and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore.

  4. The percentage of patents granted globally is low and varies between countries.
    Figure 4: The percentage of patents granted globally is low and varies between countries.

    Only 11% of all filed iPSC-related patents have been granted, leaving 89% pending examination, adding to the uncertainty of who will hold rights in what technologies. The ratio of iPSC granted patents to pending applications for each of the leading five patenting nations and the EU (through its regional patent application process) by priority country is shown.


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Author information

  1. These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Anna French &
    • David A Brindley


  1. Oxford–University College London Centre for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

    • MacKenna Roberts,
    • Ivan B Wall,
    • Anna French &
    • David A Brindley
  2. Department of Biochemical Engineering, University College London, London, UK.

    • Ivan B Wall
  3. Department of Nanobiomedical Science and BK21 Plus NBM, Global Research Center of Regenerative Medicine, Dankook University, Cheonan, Republic of Korea.

    • Ivan B Wall
  4. Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Lab, Department of Nanobiomedical Science and World Class University Research Center, Dankook University, Cheonan, Republic of Korea.

    • Ivan B Wall
  5. IP Asset LLP, Oxford, UK.

    • Ian Bingham &
    • Dominic Icely
  6. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Brock Reeve &
    • David A Brindley
  7. Sartorius Stedim, Göttingen, Germany.

    • Kim Bure
  8. Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

    • David A Brindley
  9. Centre for Behavioural Medicine, UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London, London, UK.

    • David A Brindley

Competing financial interests

D.A.B. is a stockholder in Translation Ventures Ltd., which provides cell therapy biomanufacturing, regulatory and financial advice to clients in the cell therapy sector. At the time of publication, D.A.B. and the organizations with which he is affiliated may or may not have agreed and/or pending funding commitments from the organizations named herein. D.A.B. has also consulted for Lonza Group and Sartorius Stedim within the past seven years with a cumulative compensation value greater than $10,000.

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