Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

IP, Lawsuits, and is it getting worse?

So, Like every other company in this space, we are in a bunch of law suits. We are in suits with our competitors where they are suing us. In turn, we are suing them. Oh yeah -> they are all suing each other as well. There are a couple of lop sided ones where only 1 party is suing the other and the other has not yet fired back. I would guarentee that privatly they are having a conversation along the lines of "stop or we will sue you back", so it may be just a matter of time before those imbalances are righted.

My question last week, in a moment of complete desperation over what was going on, was "is this worse now than in the past, or am I just young?".

I did some work. First I asked those older than me. It is worse now was the answer. It used to be you could all watch the individual cases in the industry and eveyone would talk about them. Now, most people don't even know all of the cases we are in never mind what the sum total for the industry is.

Then I looked at press releases over the last years I can find at all the companies... yep -> getting worse.

We are now at the point where, essentially, everything we try and sell requires a license from someone. We (I actually...) spend a lot of time on freedom to operate and working with lawyers on this, but there is so much. It is, almost, 100% guarenteed that you miss one until you are a fair ways in to the project. You don't want to. You spend 10's of thousands of dollars on lawyers trying not to. But, pretty frequently you do. Frequently enough that I am now pretty paranoid until we have found the problem because I assume that the fact that we haven't found it means we have missed it not that it doesn't exist.

...and now a digression/example of how this works these days.....

Normally the patent we find comes from some totally left field place that you wouldn't expect. I mean, finding it from a university of some famous academic -> Expect that. Look there first anyway and talk to their tech transfer office (they will always try and license you something, but rarely know the background...). Recently we have been on a streak of turning up stuff that we are just getting interested in, and a large number of papers are coming out of academic labs on (and people getting big notice on!!!) ----and patents were issued in the late 90's to a bunch of different japanese electronics firms on the core ideas. They didn't commercially launch a product, so the only way you know about this work is if you search the patents. AND - oh yeah - They used their own vocabulary so simple text word searching wont work. You have to understand the concepts as they describe them to see that they are talking about exactly what is being talked about in the literature today. Given how much we have put in to this project already... this is a big big big kick in the teeth. I now am talking to them to license and move forward. This will, likely, move at a glacial pace as that is how most deals with them evolve.

The really funny part of this is the academics running around thinking they found something new. I KNOW that they have gone to their tech transfer offices and tried to file patents, as those offices have approached me. They are pretty shocked when I reply "How do you distinguish over this 6 series patent" (The 6 referes to the first number and if you live this crap you know how old that makes it. We are doing 7's right now). I can only wonder if the academics hear back on this? If they do, what do they do? Will the read the patents and copy the work and claim it as their own? (as there is extension to what they have published in the already published patent specs?)

I am skeptical enough of academic science that I don't think they tell anyone but do read and copy.

In any case -> that long diversion illustrates a lot of work that I do.

Once we find the patent, we then either try and work around it (not practice it) or license it. Everyone has a price....the question is "are they sensible?" as many peoples prices are quite high. They think they hold the holy grail and that we should pay up. Sometimes we do, so I can't really fault the trying. Got to know when to hold them, know when to run --or whatever that line is. That negotiation is the fun part of my job (for me...).

Unfortunatly, there are a lot of patents out there and a lot of lawyers. So - companies (ourselves included....) will take a bit of a patent and try and stretch it as far as possible to exclude our competitors from the space. Thus...the court.

I don't know what the answer is, and don't think any of the simplistic ones are it (outlaw patents, make everything free....etc...) but do know that the current status quo will likely break soon in the biotech space.

We will see.

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