US District Court Judge Mark Wolf dismissed patent claims filed by several biotechnology companies (including Genzyme Corp. and Biogen Idec Inc.) against Columbia University that alleged the New York school was improperly trying to extend its rights to a process widely used to engineer new drugs. Columbia had collected several hundred million dollars over the years from its patents on the drug-making process but the school recently pledged not to seek further royalties, so the judge in the case dismissed firms’ claims.
The patents are based on research from the 1970s by Columbia professor Richard Axel, who this year was co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Axel and two colleagues created a way to splice bits of DNA into living cells to create human proteins, a basic technique used to produce many of today’s best-selling biotechnology products such as Genzyme’s Cerezyme for Gaucher disease and Biogen Idec’s multiple-sclerosis drug Avonex.
The patents expired in 2000, but in 2002 Columbia received a new patent derived from its previous patents with 17 more years of protection and Columbia expected continuing royalties based on the new patent. The companies stopped paying and filed various suits against Columbia the next year.
In dismissing the claims, Wolf let stand Columbia’s patent itself, which the school is having reexamined by the US Patent and Trademark Office. David I. Gindler, an attorney at the firm of Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles who represents Columbia, said Wolf’s ruling leaves open the possibility of a future decision by the government agency that would extend the school’s rights after all.