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Court Dismisses Suit over Inventorship of Seminal RNAi Patents

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A US District Court late last month threw out a lawsuit filed by a former University of Massachusetts researcher against the Carnegie Institution of Washington over inventorship of seminal intellectual property related to the discovery of RNA interference.

The court, however, did not make its ruling based on the merits of suit's claims, but rather on technical reasons.

The plaintiff, Mussa Ali, had previously worked in the lab of UMass researcher Craig Mello, who, along with Carnegie's Andrew Fire, led the research that uncovered how double-stranded RNA can induce the silencing of specific genes via the RNAi process.

Fire and Mello were awarded the Noble Prize for their work in 2006.

In suits filed against both UMass and Carnegie, Ali stated that he made "critical" discoveries about RNAi while working for Mello, but that his contributions were ignored by the institutions and he was inappropriately excluded as an inventor on five patents related to Fire and Mello's work.

His suit against UMass was previously dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity — a legal doctrine under which a US state is immune from prosecution by any court other than the US Supreme Court. The school argued that it was entitled to such protection because it is a state institution.

In late August, the court hearing the case against Carnegie granted the institutions request to dismiss Ali's lawsuit for failing to include UMass, which it ruled was a necessary party to the litigation.

"Both Carnegie and UMass are currently co-owners of the patents, and the addition of the plaintiff as a co-inventor would change both their ownership rights," the court stated. Therefore, the case cannot fairly proceed in its absence.

Still, Ali's case was dismissed without prejudice, leaving the door open for him to refile his claims.

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