A patent is supposed to last for a predetermined period so that the know-how contained therein eventually passes into the public domain. But if it is important enough, companies will try to get around the inconvenience of an expiration date. A dispute currently in the courts illustrates just how far some will go.
The case involves a patent that one litigant calls the "fundamental technology" needed for the artificial synthesis of antibodies. Last spring MedImmune, a maker of monoclonal antibodies, sued biotechnology giant Genentech, the City of Hope National Medical Center (a research partner of Genentech) and the British company Celltech. The suit levels antitrust charges, claiming that Genentech and Celltech colluded illegally to extend a monopoly over monoclonal antibody technology for more than a decade beyond a patent's 2006 expiration date. MedImmune has also asked that a patent that prolongs the rights to the technology be invalidated and stipulates that the agreement between Genentech and Celltech has "profoundly and fundamentally altered the competitive landscape in the biotechnology industry." The making of antibody drugs is one of the most dynamic industry sectors. In 2002, for example, Genentech and its marketing partners, took in total revenues of more than $1 billion for Rituxan, an antibody-based lymphoma drug.
This article was originally published with the title Working the System.