Genentech Settles Huge Patent Case

SAN FRANCISCO--A bitter episode in biotech history was finally put to rest last week when biotech pioneer Genentech agreed to pay the University of California (UC) $200 million to settle a long-running patent suit. UC claimed that the company had infringed its patent on engineered human growth hormone. The deal includes a $50 million donation toward a research building at UC San Francisco--the campus that holds the disputed patent--and payments of $17 million each to five former UCSF scientists.

UC's claim was the subject of an 8-week trial last spring that ended with the jury deadlocked 8 to 1 in favor of the university (Science, 11 June, p. 1752). Because Genentech survived that first round so narrowly, many viewed the retrial, scheduled to begin on 3 January, as a "slam dunk" for UC, says San Francisco patent attorney Richard Osman, who followed the case closely. If UC had won, damages could have topped $1 billion.

In addition to the $50 million toward the new research building--which will be on UCSF's new Mission Bay campus, and which Genentech will name--the company is paying UC $150 million in cash; UC's general fund will get $30 million, while UCSF will receive an additional $35 million. The remaining $85 million will be split equally among five scientists who first cloned the gene for human growth hormone. They are former UCSF professor Howard Goodman, now at Harvard; Peter Seeburg, now director of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany; John Shine, now executive director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia; John Baxter of UCSF; and Joseph Martial, now of the University of Liege in Belgium.

UC and Genentech have agreed that despite the wealth of evidence that has been presented, it will never be known for sure where the DNA in the Genentech clone came from. And maybe with the legal case finally closed, most people eventually will cease to care.