BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory is being sued by a Japanese company that claims it owns the patent on a strain of mouse that Jackson Lab is marketing as its own.
The Central Institute for Experimental Animals, based in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki, filed a complaint last month alleging patent infringement in U.S. District Court in northern California. Jackson Lab has a west coast branch in Sacramento, which is in the court’s jurisdiction.
CIEA accuses Jackson Lab of producing and marketing a strain of immunodeficient mouse that has been patented and trademarked in the United States by CIEA.
“Jackson Lab’s statements are material, deceptive and false, and mislead or have a tendency to mislead consumers and members of the scientific community and public,” the court complaint says. “Jackson Lab is not the originator or innovator behind the new immunodeficient mouse possessing the properties covered by the patent.”
Joyce Peterson, spokeswoman for Jackson Lab, declined Tuesday to comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, which was filed Dec. 12, CIEA applied in December 2001 for a patent in the United States for a type of mouse with “severe” immune deficiencies. It published a paper on the immunodeficient mouse in 2002 and was granted a patent in the U.S. for the mouse in December 2006.
The mouse, called NOG mouse by the Japanese firm, has a “high tolerance to foreign cells and tissues in xeno-transplantation studies,” according to the complaint. This characteristic allows scientists to study human physiology by transplanting human cells into the mice without having the human cells killed off by the mouse immune systems.
“CIEA’s patented NOG mouse is a research tool with broad applications and substantial utility in biomedical and pharmaceutical research and development,” the document says.
The Japanese firm indicates that in 2005, Dr. Leonard Shultz of Jackson Lab published a paper indicating that the Bar Harbor lab had produced an immunodeficient mouse. That strain of mouse, which the lab now refers to as its NSG mouse, fits the description of the NOG mouse patented by CIEA, according to the complaint.
CIEA alleges that until last year, Jackson Lab used CIEA’s NOG trademark in promoting and marketing its mouse, even though it had not been licensed to do so by CIEA. Jackson Lab’s claims concerning the advantages of its “new” immunodeficient mouse have harmed CIEA’s reputation and its ability to market the NOG mouse, the complaint says.
The Japanese firm is seeking unspecified monetary damages against Jackson Lab, including royalties and attorneys’ fees, and an injunction against the lab from infringing upon CIEA’s patent and trademark.
A message left Wednesday at the office of CIEA’s attorney, Kenneth Keller of San Francisco, was not immediately returned.
In a prepared statement, Jackson Lab officials said Tuesday that they make the mouse strain widely available to the research community under license from the federal government.
“[The lab’s] position is that the lawsuit is without merit and will be vigorously contested in the interest of ensuring that ongoing vital research using this mouse strain will not be interrupted,” the statement says.
Peterson said Tuesday that Jackson Lab had received a copy of the complaint and was reviewing it.
“Our legal team is going to challenge every word of it,” Peterson said.
She said that the lab had no warning from the Japanese organization about the legal action. She said Jackson Lab has worked with CIEA before on other projects, but only learned of the legal claim when it was notified of the court filing in California.
“It’s just one of those things,” she said. “We’re just puzzled.”