By Kim Tae-gyu
Stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who was the first to create a canine clone in 2005, defeated Seoul National University (SNU) in a lawsuit involving commercial cloning technologies for dogs.
The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, a lab launched by Hwang in 2006, said Monday that SNU dropped a patent suit midway through last month, thus clearing any obstacles to Hwang's research.
Hwang cloned a dog named Snuppy in early 2005 but SNU held a patent for the technologies because he was a professor at the state-run university.
After Hwang was fired from the university due to manipulation of his stem cell papers, he began commercial dog cloning, producing highly-skilled ones such as bomb-sniffers.
SNU took Hwang to court claiming that he took advantage of the patented technologies to make money. In response, Hwang said that his team had developed a new methodology.
The court sided with Hwang at the first trial midway through last year and SNU appealed against the decision. But the Seoul-based university finally gave up trying to overturn the initial ruling.
"Hwang and his team have employed a totally different set of technologies in generating canine clones to those used for Snuppy a few years ago," said professor Hyun Sang-hwan at Chungbuk National University, Hwang's close aide.
"Hwang's team will continue to work on researching improved cloning technology down the road in order to remain ahead of the curve."
Hwang emerged as a star scientist here after he claimed to have cloned stem cells from human embryos in 2004 and in 2005. The work was featured in cover stories twice for the prestigious U.S. journal Science.
But later research found that he fabricated data and there were no cloned embryonic stem cells at all although disputes still linger whether or not the first cell line was genuine.
After his dismissal from SNU, Hwang became a scientific pariah and was prosecuted, receiving a two-year jail sentence suspended for three years in 2009. Both Hwang and the prosecution lodged an appeal.
However, Hwang was vindicated regarding Snuppy since reviews confirmed that it was an authentic clone. He then opened a commercial dog cloning business as no other nations had the technology to complete the difficult job.
Hwang also resumed stem cell research and created embryonic stem cell batches from miniature pigs, whose organs are expected to be transplanted into the human body in the future.
He wrote a paper on the pig stem cells, which will be printed later this year. A paper is also currently under review contending that the stem cell line No. 1 featured in the 2004 Science paper are indeed embryonic stem cells.