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Lawsuits Dropped in Patent Dispute About HIV Drug Resistance Database

A Stanford University HIV/AIDS researcher and the university have settled defamation and breach-of-contract suits filed by a small European biotech company. The long-standing legal fracas revolves around the HIV Drug Resistance Database (HIVdb), a popular Web site created by Stanford’s Robert Shafer. Clinicians, researchers, and drug developers around the world use HIVdb to help make sense of mutations that HIV uses to dodge drugs.

Advanced Biological Laboratories (ABL) S.A., based in Luxembourg, first approached Stanford in 2007 because it believed the HIVdb may have infringed company patents regarding computer methods to guide patient treatment of many diseases. Shafer and Stanford initially objected, concerned that enforcing these patents could interfere with research and treatment. Stanford and ABL then reached a settlement about that dispute, but Shafer was not party to it and refused to abide by some of its terms, publicly criticizing what he sees as the overly broad scope of the ABL patents. That led ABL to sue Stanford and, separately, Shafer.

In the latest agreements with Stanford, ABL dismissed the suits and agreed not to pursue its patents against any nonprofit institution, hospital, researcher, or individual doctor who uses the HIVdb to treat HIV infections. Shafer and the company are also issuing joint statements that say ABL “never intended to shut down or adversely impact the HIVdb.” The statement does note, however, that Shafer has asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to “reexamine” the validity of ABL’s patent claims, a process that is under way.