Sunday, September 13, 2015

Inventorship dispute at the University of Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an article about academic intrigue and patents, titled
Federal patent office rules against two Pitt doctors on vaccine application.

There was a patent application filed by Professors Jay Kolls and Mingquan Zheng. The aggrieved complainants were Pitt researchers Karen Norris, an immunology professor at UPitt, and Heather Kling, a postdoctoral student in her lab.

The issue:

In 2011, Dr. Norris complained to Pitt officials that Dr. Kolls and Dr. Zheng, who had moved to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC from Louisiana State, had falsely claimed they did the monkey research that was the basis for seeking a patent on a pneumocystis vaccine. She contended that the Kolls-Zheng lab had received samples of the pneumocystis protein cited in the patent documents from her lab; that the Kolls-Zheng lab never worked with monkeys, only mice; and that Dr. Kolls had learned about details of her lab’s research when he served as a member of Dr. Kling’s dissertation committee.


When Dr. Kolls failed to add her name, Dr. Norris sought a university investigation. That was carried out by a faculty committee, which ruled in 2013 that even though the Norris lab had made the original discovery of the protein fragment cited in the patent application, it could not determine whether Dr. Kolls and Dr. Zheng had engaged in outright misconduct. Instead, the panel said, the two physicians were guilty of “research impropriety.”

Ironically, the patent office cited the Pitt faculty committee’s own report as the primary basis for ruling against Dr. Kolls and Dr. Zheng on the patent application. “The threshold question in determining inventorship is who conceived the invention,” the office said. “Unless a person contributes to the conception of the invention, he is not an inventor.” The “evidence appears to indicate that Kolls and Zheng do not meet the requirements of inventorship.”


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