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4-Patents: 3 more biotech firms file suit against Columbia overpatent

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TITLE:  3 More Biotech Firms File Suit Against Columbia Over Patent
SOURCE: The New York Times, USA, by Andrew Pollack
DATE:   Jul 16, 2003

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3 More Biotech Firms File Suit Against Columbia Over Patent

Columbia University is coming under increasing legal attack from
biotechnology companies, which accuse it of illegally trying to extend
the life of a patent that has brought the institution hundreds of
millions in revenue.

Three companies -- Biogen, Genzyme and a subsidiary of Abbott Laboratories
-- joined to sue Columbia yesterday in United States District Court in
Boston. The lawsuit follows one filed in Los Angeles last month by Amgen,
the nation's largest biotechnology company, and another filed in San
Francisco in April by Genentech, the second largest.

The suits say Columbia abused the patent system by obtaining a new patent
covering the same invention that an expired patent had covered. The suits
seek to invalidate the new patent and establish that the companies do not
owe any more money to Columbia. Advertisement

"We've paid them hundreds of millions of dollars for that invention,"
said Thomas J. DesRosier, general counsel of Genzyme, a biotechnology
company in Cambridge, Mass. He was referring to payments by the industry
as a whole. "Under our patent laws we don't think it's appropriate that
we have to pay them again."

Robert Kasdin, senior executive vice president at Columbia, said the
university had not seen the latest lawsuit and could not comment on it.
But in general, he said, the university denies the charge and would not
have received the new patent unless the United States Patent and
Trademark Office decided that it contained new intellectual property.

In the late 1970's, Columbia scientists, led by Richard Axel, developed a
technique useful for genetically engineering animal cells to make them
produce biotech drugs like interferon, which is used to treat multiple
sclerosis. The first patent, issued in 1983, was licensed by numerous
companies and became one of the most lucrative ever held by a university,
earning royalty payments of about $100 million a year in its final years.
Columbia used the royalties to support university research.

The patent expired in August 2000. Before it did, Columbia tried to get
Congress to extend the patent for 14 to 18 months. But after the
biotechnology industry objected, the effort failed. The industry thought
that was the end of the matter.

But the university had also applied for additional patents, a technique
commonly used by businesses. One application, filed in 1995, led to a
patent issued last September. The university is now saying that companies
must pay royalties on the new patent, which will last for 17 years.

Biotech drugs are proteins that are commonly produced by putting the gene
for the protein into Chinese hamster ovary cells, which then churn out
the protein. The Columbia scientists developed a method to determine
which animal cells take up the gene for the drug.


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