UR’s lengthy litigation against Pfizer, Inc., marketers of cox-2 inhibitor drug Celebrex, came to an end on Nov. 29 when the Supreme Court declined without comment to hear the university’s appeal.

The denial of UR’s petition upholds a summer ruling by a federal appeals court that invalidated the university’s method patent covering processes used to selectively inhibit the cox-2 enzyme.

University officials hoped the Supreme Court would review the case because they believed the lower courts’ rulings invalidating the patent represent a fundamental shift in patent law.

There is some speculation that losing the lawsuit will hurt universities’ abilities to recoup royalties and fees for research.

“It’s a great disappointment, because we really hoped that the justices would look at the case,” UR Vice President Sue Stewart said. “The principles involved in the case are very important. I honestly think that the issues will come up again with another research university.”

UR was joined in petitioning the Court by amici from the University of California system, the University of Texas system, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, Cornell University, the University of Maryland, Emory University, the University of Florida and Johns Hopkins University.

“The lower court decision invalidating the university’s patent represents a fundamental shift in patent law, changing the balance between protection of basic research and protection of commercial products,” President Thomas Jackson said. “The decision was detrimental not just to us, but to research initiatives at universities and innovative companies that concentrate on early stage research.”

The patent was held invalid on the grounds that it did not contain enough information to meet the “written description” test, which should “enable one skilled in the art” to make and use what is described by the patent. Stewart disagrees with the lower courts’ reasoning.

“Now the courts are saying you need to actually commercialize,” Stewart said. “I don’t think that’s what universities should do. I don’t think that’s a correct reading of the law.”

Some published reports valued the royalties from the patent at anywhere between $3 billion and $30 billion.

It could have become the most lucrative patent in university history.

Instead, the university spent $10 million defending the research and will receive nothing from Pfizer.

“There is no money from Pfizer on this research,” Stewart lamented. “The patent is invalidated, and we probably won’t be able to license it because no one will likely pay us for it now.”

The Court announced that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did not take any part in the decision.

O’Connor invests much money in corporations, and has been known to recuse herself from cases involving companies she invests in.

It is unknown whether she invests in Pfizer.

Tipton can be reached at rtipton@campustimes.org.

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