Litigation over models may inflate prices. Credit: Lee Pettet/istockphoto

The Jackson Laboratory has unwittingly found itself ensnared in patent disputes. In June, the nonprofit laboratory mouse developer located in Bar Harbor, Maine, was cleared of a patent infringement allegation—the first in the laboratory's 80-year history—and now faces a second allegation by another party. Jackson's mission of making its repository of more than 5,000 mouse strains available to researchers at affordable prices could be challenged if it is forced to continue defending itself in expensive lawsuits, says David Einhorn, the laboratory's in-house attorney. In Jackson's first scuffle, the Central Institute for Experimental Animals (CIEA), a Kawasaki, Japan–based nonprofit, in 2008 sued Jackson for distributing a mouse model particularly useful for grafting human tissue. Both groups in the 1990s separately developed these immunodeficient mice by starting with a strain of nonobese diabetic mouse (NOD), crossing those with mice carrying the scid mutation for immunodeficiency, and crossing them again with mice whose gene for a key immune signaling molecule, interleukin-2 receptor γ, was knocked out. Jackson has distributed the mouse to more than 1,000 research groups worldwide, says Einhorn. But the laboratory didn't patent its mouse, whereas CIEA did. On June 1, a US District Court judge ruled that the Jackson Laboratory had not infringed CIEA's patent. What ultimately swayed the judge to side with Jackson was that the CIEA, in its patent application, described the mouse but didn't claim it. In his decision the judge cited the Guidelines for Nomenclature of Mouse and Rat Strains, which state mice inbred for more than 20 generations can be considered a different strain, and Jackson's mouse line had been separately inbred many times. Michael Rader, attorney with Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks in Boston, who represented Jackson, says this was likely the first time nomenclature rules have been used to help decide a lawsuit. Now Jackson faces another lawsuit involving transgenic mice with mutations useful in Alzheimer's disease research. The Alzheimer's Institute of America in February sued Jackson and six biotech and pharma companies for patent infringement. Despite the high costs of the two lawsuits, Einhorn says Jackson won't alter its mission of making laboratory mice accessible. But he notes that if the suing trend continues, “the most obvious way to recoup the costs is to charge more for mice.” He adds: “That falls on the backs of scientists who do the research.”