Time for sharp competitive intelligence

For the fourth time in less than three years, federal authorities have rejected a key patent worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Genentech, the South San Francisco biotechnology giant.

But it’s unlikely the decision by the USPTO regarding the so-called Cabilly patent, which deals with a technique for making antibodies and cells, will have an immediate effect on the company.

Genentech spokeswoman Caroline Pecquet said the firm’s executives haven’t seen the latest decision and haven’t determined how they will respond. But Pecquet noted that when the agency previously rejected the patent, it agreed to reconsider the matter at the company’s request.

The corporation also has the option of filing a formal appeal with the patent office and, if that fails, with the federal courts. Until all appeals are exhausted, the patent remains in effect and Genentech can continue receiving royalty payments from other firms that use the technology.

The patent – which the company obtained in 2001 and expires in 2018 – earned the company $133 million last year, according to an annual report Genentech released Tuesday.

The legitimacy of the Cabilly patent has been challenged by MedImmune of Maryland. That company pays Genentech royalties for using the technology in a drug it sells to treat respiratory diseases.

MedImmune, which has sought since 2005 to have the patent invalidated, also sued Genentech in 2003 over the dispute. That trial is scheduled to begin in June.

After Genentech announced the patent decision, its stock price fell 46 cents to close at $77.50 Tuesday.

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