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U.S. Supreme Court Postpones Decision on Review of Patent Rights Case; Seeks Input from Bush Administration

Written by on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court has postponed making a decision on whether or not to grant review on a case challenging the right of universities to enforce their own patent rights whileremaining immune from patent infringement lawsuits by private companies, reported Bernadette Tansey for SFGate.  The Court is requesting input from the Bush Administration legal representative before making a decision.

SFGate reported on the case as follows:

The plaintiff in the case, Biomedical Patent Management Corp., is asking the high court for a sweeping decision that would strip California’s immunity to patent infringement suits on grounds that the University of California routinely submits to federal court jurisdiction when it pursues damages and settlements from the private sector for alleged violations of its own patent rights. UC’s use of the patent system amounts to a waiver of the state’s immunity, the company maintains.

That argument was rejected by a San Francisco trial court judge and a federal appellate court, which cited prior Supreme Court rulings upholding the immunity of states from federal suit. That "sovereign immunity" of the states is based on the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which limits the authority of the federal government over the states.

Each side to this case interpreted the action by the Court to seek Bush Administration input on the issue differently.  SF Gate reported:

[Andrew Dhuey, an attorney for the plaintiff] said the Supreme Court’s request for advice from the U.S. solicitor general on the case is "a very positive development."

"To be in the situation we’re in has drastically shortened the odds" that the high court will take up the case, Dhuey said.

Supervising Deputy Attorney General Karin Schwartz, who represents the state in the case, said the high court’s action may only mean that a few justices wanted additional information. The Supreme Court could deny review even if the solicitor general recommends it, she said.

This case, of course, raises an interesting public policy question: should universities be able to sue when they can’t themselves be sued by the same party they are suing?  While of course there is an argument that a state university is for the public good and is funded with taxpayer dollars, and therefore should be immune, but at the same time it seems fundamentally unfair and to permit the same immune institution to enforce its own intellectual property rights against third party private companies.  Aren’t technology transfer offices essentially acting as commercial institutions  engaging in commercial activities when they enter into licensing and other related transactions with private companies? Shouldn’t they be governed by the same rules as private companies?

I would be interested in hearing blog reader thoughts on this issue.  If you have an opinion that you would like to share, please write me and I’ll make your remarks available to all blog readers.

Category: Biotech Legal Disputes  |  Comments Off on U.S. Supreme Court Postpones Decision on Review of Patent Rights Case; Seeks Input from Bush Administration

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