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September 17, 2015

Patent office rules against 2 Pitt doctors in dispute

Although the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found on Sept. 10 that two of the four Pitt doctors on a Pitt biological patent application were not the inventors of a substance that has been the subject of a four-year dispute, the University “will continue its vigorous pursuit of the patentability of the remaining claims, in support of the science and each of the four named inventors,” according to Ken Service, vice chancellor for communications.

The controversy concerns a discovery that helped develop a vaccine against the potentially fatal pneumocystic pneumonia infection. Mingquan Zheng, research faculty member in the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research at Children’s Hospital, and Jay Kolls, pediatrics and immunology faculty member in the School of Medicine, originally sought the patent. They and the University were sued by Karen Norris, Department of Immunology faculty member in the School of Medicine and a student in her laboratory, fourth-year postdoctoral associate Heather Kling.

In ruling against Kolls and Zheng, the Patent Office said Norris and Kling’s lab originated the data from experiments on primates and were involved in the idea for the substance in question.

Kolls would not speak directly about the ruling and Norris referred questions to her lawyer, who did not respond to a request for comment before the University Times went to press.

An internal Pitt inquiry in 2013 found Kolls guilty of “research impropriety” for issues surrounding record-keeping and citations of the Norris and Kling research in his own studies, but it did not rule that he was guilty of misconduct. Norris and Kling’s federal lawsuit still is pending.

—Marty Levine  

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 2

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