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Columbia’s Lesson?

The ivory tower and the marketplace have more to lose than gain in the battle over intellectual property.

A group of life sciences companies, including Biogen, Genzyme, and the pharmaceutical giant Abbot Laboratories, filed suit in mid-July in a Boston federal court against Columbia University over a lucrative recombinant DNA patent that has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the school’s coffers since 1983. The patent, based on an invention by cell biologist Richard Axel, M.D., is based on a technique that allows researchers to assay cells that have taken up a desired piece of DNA. The method, called “cotransformation,” is used in nearly every molecular biology laboratory. Columbia University, the companies allege, imitated a common industrial practice, modifying its patent with “distinct and different” twists to extend its income-bearing years—a strategy called “evergreening.”

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» Columbia’s Lesson?

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