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Court Orders Sigma-Aldrich to Provide Some Sales Data to CSHL, Ending Dispute


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's legal battle with Sigma-Aldrich ended last month when the court hearing the case ordered the life sciences company to provide certain sales data related to its RNAi products to the institution for use in a separate lawsuit.

Specifically, Sigma-Aldrich must produce aggregate sales figures for the products in question, as well as a company representative who can testify about the data.

Still, the court took Sigma-Aldrich's objections into account, and ruled that the data will be covered by a protective order that would allow the firm to designate as “attorney's eyes only — confidential information” any information “it reasonably and in good faith believes to contain sensitive research, licensing, business, financial, market, or other proprietary information, the disclosure of which is likely to cause … harm.”

Additionally, the court rejected CSHL's request for other Sigma-Aldrich information such as customer lists, finding that the need for such data is “tenuous.”

With the resolution of this case, CSHL is now free to pursue its case against law firm Ropes & Gray, which had been in charge of handling the institute's intellectual property, but was sued in 2010 for allegedly botching the prosecution of two patent applications related to the shRNA work of CSHL's Greg Hannon (GSN 2/25/2010).

According to the suit, Ropes & Gray lawyer Matthew Vincent improperly prosecuted those applications by failing to provide "an original, complete description of … Hannon's work.” Instead, the CSHL suit alleges, he “relied upon copying extensive portions of text — essentially verbatim — from a prior patent application" published by RNAi pioneers Andrew Fire, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and Craig Mello, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

In doing so, Hannon's inventions were made to seem like "something that Fire invented or was suggested by the Fire application," rather than a novel invention that "represented a considerable advance over the prior art," CSHL charged.

As a result, the patent applications were rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office, which CSHL said deprived it of valuable licensing revenues. It had been requesting the sales information from Sigma-Aldrich in order to help it calculate its losses, claiming that certain of the company's products would have required a license to the Hannon IP.

According to CSHL, it has also obtained similar product information from Life Technologies and Thermo Fisher Scientific.