The University of California won a $100 million plus settlement from Monsanto for patent claims that had been pending for over 24 years – a patent covering the growth hormone used to make cows produce more milk. Monsanto reached a deal with the university just as the case was set to begin a jury trial.

As part of its settlement, Monsanto was granted an exclusive license to the university’s patents for making recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a genetically-engineered bovine somatotropin (BST) that Monsanto sells under the brand name Posilac. About one-third of the dairy cows in the United States receive Posilac.

The University of California will get an upfront royalty payment of $100 million from Monsanto, and an ongoing royalty of 15 cents per dose of Posilac sold, with a minimum annual royalty of $5 million. Monsanto will pay the royalties through 2023, when the University of California’s patents expire.

Three researchers at the University of California in San Francisco were the first to isolate and identify the genetic code for bovine growth hormone. The university sued Monsanto in February 2004, after it received one of its patents.

U.S. Patent No. 6,692,941, was filed February 15, 1990, which was a continuation of applications dating back to August 26, 1980! The patent claims a DNA comprising a deoxynucleotide sequence coding for bovine growth hormone. A transfer vector and an expression vector containing this DNA and microorganisms transformed by these vectors are also described.

The present invention discloses the cloning of a DNA coding for bovine growth hormone and the expression of the cloned DNA in microorganisms. In the process, mRNA coding for bovine growth hormone is isolated from bovine pituitaries, a reverse transcript (a cDNA copy) of the mRNA is prepared and inserted into a transfer vector. The transfer vector is used to transform bacteria which express the cloned cDNA.

The FDA approved Monsanto’s rBGH product, Posilac, for commercial use on November 5, 1993. A 90-day moratorium on the sale of rBGH ended on February 3, 1994. Posilac went on sale the following day – 10 years before the UC patent issued but still 14 years after the UC patent was filed.

BST has been controversial since it was introduced, because its opponents claim it forces cows to produce more milk than they normally would produce and makes them susceptible to udder infections. Some groups consider the use of BST unhealthy for humans.

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