The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has leapt to the rescue of a laboratory that was sued for distributing mouse models to researchers.
Today, NIH director Francis Collins sent a letter to the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, granting NIH’s “authorization and consent” for the lab to distribute 22 mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. This move shields the Jackson Lab from a 2010 lawsuit over a patent that covers a genetic mutation carried by the mice.
“NIH is committed to making sure that researchers have the tools they need to find the causes of and cures for debilitating diseases. Such research tools include special mice used in Alzheimer’s disease research,” Collins said in a statement released today. “Given the enormous toll that Alzheimer’s disease takes on individuals, families, and our nation’s health care costs, it is critical that this research go forward as vigorously as possible.”
The Jackson Lab was sued in February 2010 by the Alzheimer’s Institute of America, based in St. Louis, Missouri, for distributing mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease that contain the so-called “Swedish mutation,” which causes early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The AIA holds a US patent on the Swedish mutation (see “Patent dispute threatens US mouse research.”)
The Jackson Lab had said that defending the lawsuit would be costly, but that it did not want settle the lawsuit because AIA was making demands that the lab did not want to meet, such as demanding that the lab release the names of researchers who had obtained the mice from the repository. That could have exposed the researchers to lawsuits.
AIA contended that it allows academic research on mouse models covered by its patents, but that the Jackson Lab was profiting from selling the mice.
But the federal government can protect its contractors from patent litigation if they are working on behalf of the government by granting its “authorization and consent” for a contractor to use any invention that has been patented in the United States, as Collins has done today. The move, which had been requested by the Jackson Lab in December, shields the Jackson Lab from patent lawsuits.
NIH deputy director for science, outreach and policy Kathy Hudson said that NIH is not worried that the agency will now receive a flood of other requests for help with litigation because this is a “unique circumstance.”
“This is a vital research resource that was largely developed and made available to researchers on our own dime, so it was something we felt strongly needed to get done,” Hudson says.
The fate of the AIA lawsuit against Jackson Lab is now unclear. The NIH’s action will be evaluated by the judge hearing the lawsuit, Elizabeth Laporte of the US District Court of Northern California. AIA did not respond to a request for comment today.
AIA still has a number of lawsuits pending against companies and researchers (see “Patent disputes.”) NIH’s action on behalf of the Jackson Lab does not affect the other lawsuits.
David Einhorn, house counsel at the Jackson Lab, said, “Jackson is enormously gratified to receive this support from Dr. Collins.“