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Life Technologies, Open Biosystems, Dharmacon Sued for Patent Infringement

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By Doug Macron

RNAi reagent providers Life Technologies and Thermo Fisher Scientific subsidiaries Open Biosystems and Dharmacon were sued last month for allegedly infringing three US patents through their sale and manufacture of, among other things, certain siRNAs and shRNAs, according to a court document obtained by RNAi News.

While few details about the plaintiff in the case, PSN Illinois, were available, court filings indicate that the company has initiated numerous and varied patent-infringement suits in recent years.

Among these were lawsuits filed last year and eventually settled out of court against Origene and Millipore over the same patents at issue in the latest litigation, against a dental technology firm over a technique for making tooth veneers, and against a corn-based products manufacturer over ingredients in a cat litter product.

At issue in the case against Life Technologies, Dharmacon, and Open Biosystems are US patents Nos. 5,585,476, 5,856,443, and 6,518,414, all of which are entitled "Molecular Cloning and Expression of G-Protein Coupled Receptors."

The first two patents, according to their abstracts, claim two novel rat cDNAs that encode two members of the G-protein coupled receptor superfamily of proteins.

"The amino acid sequence similarity between [the cDNAs] suggests that they may be activated by the same endogenous ligands," the abstracts state, while "the expression pattern of mRNA transcripts of both genes in cell lines, various rat tissues, and developing rat brain suggests that they both play a role in cell proliferation and/or differentiation."

The last patent also claims the cloning and expression of novel cDNAs that encode members of the G-protein coupled receptor family. All three patent abstracts note that polynucleotide molecules, proteins, and antibodies of the inventions have diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

According to PSN's lawsuit, the defendants have allegedly infringed the '476, '443, and '414 patents by making and selling products and services utilizing sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor 2. For Life Technologies, these include certain of its Silencer Select siRNAs, Ambion siRNAs, and Stealth siRNAs.

Dharmacon, meanwhile, allegedly infringes the patents with its rat, mouse, and human Accell siRNAs, On-Target Plus siRNAs, siGenome siRNAs, and Smartvector lentiviral shRNAs. Open Biosystems, according to the suit, allegedly infringes with various siRNAs and shRNAs.

PSN claims in the suit that it has been "injured" through the infringement and is entitled to undisclosed damages. "If the infringement is found to be intentional and willful, then PSN will seek treble damages," it noted.

PSN asked the court for an injunction against further infringement, specifically by blocking the manufacture, sale, and use of allegedly infringing products. It is also seeking court costs and attorney fees.

Open on the Defense, Again

For Open Biosystems, the suit with PSN isn't the first time it has had to fend off charges of patent infringement related to its RNAi product portfolio.

In mid-2006, Sigma-Aldrich and partner Oxford BioMedica sued Open Biosystems, charging that its RNAi Consortium shRNA lentiviral libraries and Expression Arrest microRNA-adapted shRNA libraries infringed two of their US patents covering lentiviral vectors that can be used to introduce RNA into slowly dividing and non-dividing cells (see RNAi News, 6/15/2006).

After almost two years of wrangling, in early 2008 the companies struck a deal under which Open Biosystems took undisclosed rights to IP held by Sigma-Aldrich and Oxford BioMedica for use in research activities (see RNAi News, 3/13/2008). The companies also agreed to drop all claims against each other, and the court found that the patents at issue were valid and enforceable.

Open Biosystems was acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific about four months later (see RNAi News, 7/3/2008).

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