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MIT Seeks Dismissal from Tuschl IP Litigation

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By Doug Macron

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week took steps to withdraw itself from ongoing litigation over ownership to some of the RNAi field's most important intellectual property, asking to be dismissed from the case.

According to a legal filing obtained by RNAi News, MIT, a defendant in the case, asked that it be dismissed from the legal action with prejudice, meaning that similar claims cannot be brought against the school again. Joining MIT in its request are plaintiffs Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and the Max Planck Institute.

As part of its request for dismissal, MIT admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to be bound by any court ruling against the case's other defendants, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

"MIT shall be bound by any declaratory judgment rendered against" the other defendants relating to the prosecution of the patent applications at the heart of the dispute, the motion for dismissal reads. Additionally, "MIT and its agents … shall be bound by any equitable and/or injunctive relief rendered against Whitehead and/or UMass."

At the same time, the motion to dismiss does not "affect or alter any claims for relief that [the] plaintiffs have filed against any of the other defendants, or that any of the other defendants have filed against the plaintiffs," the filing states.

This week, Alnylam noted that the motion for dismissal would free MIT from any of the suit's claims for monetary damages in the lawsuit.

The legal row centers around the so-called Tuschl-I and Tuschl-II IP estates. Both generally relate to the use of siRNAs, 21 to 23 nucleotides in length, to target specific mRNA degradation in mammals, although the latter also includes claims related to two- to three-nucleotide-long 3' overhangs.

The Tuschl-I IP is assigned to Max Planck, UMass, Whitehead, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Max Planck is the sole owner of the Tuschl-II estate.

Importantly, Alnylam is the exclusive licensee of the Tuschl-II family. However, the company shares access to the Tuschl-I portfolio with Merck subsidiary Sirna Therapeutics (see RNAi News, 9/13/2003) and, to a limited degree, CytRx spinout RXi Pharmaceuticals, after UMass decided to unilaterally out-license its stake in the IP to companies other than Alnylam.

Last summer, Alnylam and Max Planck sued UMass, MIT, and Whitehead for allegedly incorporating various features of the Tuschl-II IP, namely the use of 3’ overhangs, into Tuschl-I patent applications (see RNAi News, 7/9/2009).

The case is expected to go to trial at the beginning of June.

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