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In the 1980s, IGEN International Inc. was awarded a series of patents for a medical diagnosis technology called electrochemiluminescence (ECL), a method of testing blood or urine for drugs or medical problems such as cancer or thyroid dysfunction. IGEN, based in Gaithersburg, Md., licensed the technology in December 1991 to Boehringer Mannheim, a German company. After studying it for nine months, Boehringer, which later became Roche Diagnostics GmbH, agreed to develop the technology further, producing instruments and a series of tests in return for royalty payments to IGEN based on sales. The product line was launched in the second half of 1996 and the first royalty payment was due in the first quarter of 1997. But, “on just under $10 million in sales, Roche calculated they owed nothing in royalties,” said plaintiff’s attorney Howard M. Shapiro. “Things went downhill from there.” Later in 1997, IGEN learned that Roche was selling not just to hospitals, blood banks and clinical reference labs, as their agreement allowed, but also to physician’s office labs and drug companies. The contract also required Roche to inform IGEN of any improvements it was making in the technology, yet it became “increasingly clear that Roche was refusing to share,” Shapiro asserted. IGEN sued, charging breach of the licensing agreement, unfair competition and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. IGEN contended that it was kept from developing ECL and launching its own products as a result of Roche’s actions and claimed that it was underpaid $18 million in royalties. On Jan. 10, a Greenbelt, Md., jury awarded IGEN $505 million, including $400 million in punitives. The jury also determined that Roche’s breaches were material, giving IGEN the right to terminate the contract. The defense did not return calls for comment. Plaintiff’s attorneys: Howard M. Shapiro, Brent Gurney, Denise Esposito and Amy Kreiger, of Washington, D.C.-based Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. Defense attorneys: Nancy Sennett, John Dawson, Michael Aprahamian and James McKeowan of Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner.

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