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Three biotechnology companies sued Columbia University on Tuesday, alleging that the school has illegally extended the life of a lucrative patent for gene-splicing technology. Biogen Inc., Genzyme Corp., and Abbott Laboratories filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boston, claiming Columbia’s 2002 patent for creating protein-generating cells is essentially the same technology as that in patents that lapsed two years earlier. The companies claim they have collectively paid tens of millions of dollars in royalties to Columbia for using the technology in various pharmaceutical treatments, and should not have to pay more. “This patent has claims that are a variation of those earlier claims, and our point is that they’re not patentably distinct,” said Thomas J. Bucknum, Biogen’s general counsel. “It’s really a variation of the same invention.” Robert Kasdin, senior executive vice president of Columbia, declined to comment, saying the university had not yet been served with the suit. Another large biotech firm, Genentech Inc., has filed a similar suit against the university. In 1980, Columbia filed for a patent for the process of inserting foreign DNA into a host cell in order to create specific proteins used to fight disease. The university received the patent in 1983, and two subsequent patents, in 1983 and 1987, were also based on the experimental research described in the original 1980 application. The university licensed the technology to more than 30 biotech companies, collecting hundreds of millions of dollars for the use of the process. All three patents expired in 2000, according to the lawsuit. When the patent expired, Columbia sought special legislation from Congress to extend it, but that bid was rejected, according to the lawsuit. Columbia obtained a patent in 2002 that, according to the companies, is essentially illegally extending the patent for the same technology for another 17 years. Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen has paid Columbia some $35 million in royalties, while Genzyme, which is also based in Cambridge, has paid around $25 million, according to the suit. The companies are seeking a release from obligations to pay Columbia, an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the license, and attorney fees and expenses. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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