Big research dollars at stake in Stanford v. Roche

Mar 10, 2011

Michigan’s research universities could have a lot at stake in the outcome of a Stanford University lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling could affect who gets the rights to nearly two billion dollars’ worth of patents that are developed as part of university-private partnerships.

Stanford sued after drug company Roche claimed the rights to a lucrative medical test.

A Stanford researcher developed the test using research techniques he learned at a private company later acquired by Roche.

Jennifer Carter-Johnson is on the faculty of Michigan State University’s College of Law.

She says first, the researcher gave the university the right to any patents from his research.

"But then the faculty member went on to actually sign another agreement with Roche’s predecessor," says Carter-Johnson. "So does that mean that Roche actually gets pre-eminance over Stanford's prior agreement?  So it might be that Stanford just had bad contract language."

The Supreme Court has to decide which of the agreements has precedence. 

Carter-Johnson says she expects universities are already becoming more vigilant about how they write their faculty research contracts, even before the ruling, which is expected this summer.