Science  04 Nov 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5749, pp. 757

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  1. High Court to Rule on Patent Limits

    Can researchers patent a scientific fact? This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the question in a dispute between diagnostics makers. A 1986 patent belonging to University of Colorado-affiliated Metabolite Laboratories covers a technique to measure homocysteine, a marker for vitamins in the blood. The claim at issue is the correlation scientists discovered—and patented—between homocysteine concentrations and vitamin levels.

    In 1999, Metabolite Laboratories, which owned the patents, sued LabCorp, which had developed a rival test that relies on that correlation, for infringement. Lab-Corp says that Metabolite's patent, if legitimate, means companies can “claim monopolies over basic scientific facts.” Metabolite says its discovery is its rightful intellectual property and not a law of nature, which cannot be patented. “[Y]ou'd call it a guideline of nature more than a law of nature,” says Metabolite attorney Glenn Beaton of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Denver, Colorado.

  2. IP Poses Quandary for Institute

    The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was launched last fall amid promises that the $3 billion stem cell research enterprise would generate up to $1 billion in royalties and other revenue for the state. But officials are still resolving questions about how to divvy up such intellectual property (IP) claims.

    This week, state Senator Deborah Ortiz (below) asked experts to describe various possible arrangements. One model discussed is that of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, in which companies agree to lower treatment costs in exchange for IP rights to any new medicines.

    The institute's financing is also in limbo. CIRM officials are trying to raise $55 million in bridge funding pending the resolution of lawsuits that have stalled a bond issue. But tax-free bonds, the preferred route, could jeopardize the state's ability to collect royalties.

    Ed Penhoet of the CIRM advisory board says the institute hopes to have an IP policy in place by February.

  3. Third Flood for Grand Canyon

    The U.S. Geological Survey and its partners that care for the Grand Canyon are planning to flood the canyon for the third time in 10 years to preserve sandbars along the Colorado River and study the river. Over the years, the Glen Canyon Dam has trapped sediment and altered water flow, changing the river environment. As a follow-up to previous dam releases, hydrologists will lower the flow later this year and then increase it in early spring to push sand into sandbars throughout the canyon. Previous releases have not spread sand as uniformly as officials wanted.

  4. Azerbaijani Physicist Held

    Human-rights activists are lobbying for the release of a prominent Azerbaijani physicist detained last week by authorities in an ongoing wave of arrests. Eldar Salayev, 72, former head of the country's Academy of Sciences, is among roughly three dozen people who have been arrrested for plotting to overthrow the government.

    Salayev's son, Elman, is a leader of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, which opposes the authoritarian government of President Ilham Aliyev. The elder Salayev has been an outspoken critic of the government, but his lawyer says he sought political change through democratic means.

  5. Bush Unveils Pandemic Flu Plan

    U.S. President George W. Bush this week announced that he will ask Congress for $7.1 billion in emergency funds to help prepare the nation for an influenza pandemic. Speaking at the National Institutes of Health, Bush noted growing concerns that the H5N1 avian influenza virus could acquire the ability to be transmitted from human to human. “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare,” he said.

    Bush is asking for $2.5 billion to stockpile antiviral drugs and vaccines. In addition to funding for other countries and local preparations, Bush wants to spend $2.8 billion on cell-based vaccine technology to prepare doses against a pandemic strain in a hurry if needed. The speech comes a week after the Senate approved $8 billion for pandemic flu preparedness, and Congress is expected to meld its wishes with the president's request.