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In 1980, Greg Lynn decided to abandon the rigors of classroom teaching and look for a simpler life. He and his wife, Lorna, established Harmony Farms in Washington state. Originally, their products — sprouts grown from seeds such as alfalfa — sold in countercultural co-ops and natural-food stores. Eventually, consumer awareness of some sprouts’ cancer-fighting potential built demand. Today Harmony Farms’ products are sold in supermarkets in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. But now Lynn and four other commercial sprout-raisers have become targets of patent suits brought by Johns Hopkins University and Brassica Protection Products, a university-licensed company based in Baltimore. The suits claim infringement of three patents. Brassica has also sued broccoli sprouters in Maryland, Wisconsin and California. NOTHING PATENTABLE THERE Delbert J. Barnard of Renton, Wash.’s Barnard & Pauly is representing Lynn in federal court in Seattle. Brassica v. Harmony Farms, No. C00-1544Z. “Our position is that [Brassica] hasn’t made any developments as far as new seeds are concerned,” Barnard said. “They haven’t done any development as far as the technique of germination is concerned.” Brassica, which is represented by Washington, D.C., patent firm Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, was founded by Dr. Paul Talalay. He conducted well-reported research at Johns Hopkins on the cancer-fighting properties of compounds found in cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli. Today Brassica licenses its own broccoli sprouters in many states, and even as far away as Japan. Its Web site is at www.brassica.com. Dr. Talalay and co-inventor Jed W. Fahay received three patents in the late 1990s for their research. The ’895 patent was for a method of preparing a food product from cruciferous seeds, and the ’567 and ’505 patents were for cancer chemoprotective food products. Research shows that the health benefits of broccoli derive from a compound, sulforaphane glucosinolate, an indirect anti-oxidant. Feeding it to lab rats seems to block mammary and colon tumors. The ’567 and ’505 patents cover the technology for broccoli sprouts harvested before the two-leaf stage, which is thought to enhance cancer protection. Barnard said that the health benefits of eating recently germinated seeds have always been known, “but somehow Brassica [was] able to convince the Patent Office not to use this prior art against them.” In his reply brief, Barnard says that the claims in the ’895 patent are “fatally vague and indefinite” and that the seed-sprouting technology covered by the ’567 and ’505 patents is already “made in this country by another who had not abandoned, suppressed or concealed it.” He included as evidence a handout published by the University of Nebraska’s Cooperative Extension Service. Brassica’s lawyers were not available for comment. However, in their complaint, they noted that a request for re-examination was filed with the patent office in late 1999, and that on July 10, 2000, the PTO “confirmed the patentability of all of the claims of the ’895 patent.” Last year, Brassica successfully brought suit in federal court against a Pennsylvania-based seed sprouter. Brassica v. Sproutman, No. 99-350. But that doesn’t mean Brassica will always prevail, says Barnard: “Our position is that what is in the sprout is a natural substance” and therefore not entitled to patent protection.

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