Monsanto settles lawsuit over BST
ST. LOUIS – Monsanto Co. will pay the University of California more than $100 million to settle the school’s claim that the biotechnology company infringed on its patent related to a hormone that makes cows produce more milk.The university’s Board of Regents and Monsanto made the announcement Monday as the bovine growth hormone case was scheduled to go to trial. The suit was filed in 2004.St. Louis-based Monsanto agreed to pay the school $100 million in upfront royalties and would pay 15 cents a dose, or at least $5 million annually, to license the patented technology, commonly called BST, in the future. The university’s patent rights expire in 2023.At issue is the genetically engineered bovine somatotropin hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac. Monsanto says injections of the hormone help dairy cows produce 10 percent to 15 percent more milk.The university alleges in its lawsuit that three researchers at UC-San Francisco first isolated the DNA that is used to make the hormone. The lawsuit said Monsanto knew about the research as early as 1985, but sold the product anyway.While researchers might have developed the technology decades ago, the school did not win a patent until 2004, said UC spokesman Trey Davis. The school filed its lawsuit that year.Monsanto spokesman Andrew Burchett said the company was the first to produce the product commercially and it patented the production process.Monsanto said the agreement will give it the exclusive commercial license to use the university’s patented hormone. The university will have the right to use the hormone in noncommercial research, and the U.S. government will retain some rights because federal funding was used to develop the technology.Burchett said Monsanto would not disclose annual sales of Posilac, although the company said the settlement will not hurt its performance this year.The three scientists at UC-San Francisco who first developed the hormone are Walter L. Miller, Joseph A. Martial and John D. Baxter, according to the school.Miller said he was happy with the settlement. He published his first paper on the hormone technology in 1980.”It’s been 26 years, and it’s nice to have it done,” Miller said.Miller said he and his fellow researchers were denied a patent for decades mainly because of technicalities with the patent process, not problems with their scientific work.The hormone has stirred debate since approved for commercial use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993. Consumer groups worry the hormone could affect human health, and many milk brands carry labels advertising that they are Posilac-free.Monsanto’s shares rose 83 cents, or almost 1 percent, to $85.47 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.