Alzheimer's Research Disrupted By Ridiculous Patent Dispute

by Mike Masnick, Techdirt
Apr. 06, 2011

We keep hearing stories of important healthcare research being disrupted by patents, and the latest, as pointed out by Slashdot, involves an organization called the Alzheimer's Institute of America... which happened to buy some patents on a DNA sequence, and is now suing or threatening to sue a ton of researchers in the space. Amusingly, AIA presents itself as an organization committed to supporting Alzheimer's research, when it appears the organization is more focused on shaking down researchers.

The key lawsuit at issue is the one filed against the Jackson Laboratory, which provides special lab mice for Alzheimer's research and is funded by the NIH. But AIA is pissed off that it's not getting a cut:
The AIA is alleging that Jackson infringed on its Swedish mutation patent, and others, when the lab distributed 22 strains of mice with the mutation to researchers; the organization is seeking unspecified damages.

The lawsuit also accuses six commercial companies of improperly profiting from the Swedish mutation, for instance by using mice bearing the mutation to test potential drugs. Furthermore, the AIA has filed four separate suits relating to the patent against academic institutions and companies in Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania (see 'Patent disputes').

But the litigation against Jackson could have the broadest impact on research. According to Einhorn, the AIA is demanding that Jackson hands over the names of all scientists who have worked with the relevant mouse models; this raises the possibility that those individual researchers might also be sued.
AIA has tried to defend its actions by saying that it's okay to use the mouse models for academic research, but you can't make money from it. The Jackson Laboratory points out that it's not making money from the models, and that it only got some money for the models which doesn't even cover the costs associated with the models.

But the key issue is that as a lab that relies on philanthropy and grants to operate, the last thing it can afford is a costly patent battle. Instead, it's asked the NIH to fight on its behalf. The lab could just settle, but the AIA is demanding that a settlement would involve Jackson handing over researchers' names who received the models, and Jackson finds that handing out such information would be "repugnant."

There are all sorts of reasons why researchers are doing this kind of work on Alzheimer's. Patents have very little to do with it. Many people would genuinely like to find ways to prevent, delay or (one can hope) cure the disease. But it appears that patents are seriously interfering with that mission. That these efforts to block research are coming from an organization that purports to support Alzheimer's research is nothing short of sickening.

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