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A US university's dream of reaping a billion-dollar windfall from a drug patent suffered a serious setback last week when its patent claim was ruled to be invalid.

Three years ago, the University of Rochester, New York, was granted a patent that it originally filed in 1992 on the discovery of a way to inhibit a gene (COX-2) that causes inflammation. The university then sued drug giants Pharmacia and Pfizer, which had been making COX-2 inhibitor drugs for years, arguing that the school was entitled to significant royalties.

Some university officials predicted that the patent would become the most valuable intellectual property ever held by a US university. But last week a federal judge dismissed the university's claim as "little more than a research plan". He said that although the patent outlines a process for finding COX-2 inhibitors, it fails to describe a specific invention.

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Reference: Science 299, 1638 (2003)
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