A California jury deadlocked yesterday in deliberations over whether Genentech Inc., the world's second-largest biotechnology company, stole research from the University of California at San Francisco in developing a top-selling drug.
Attorneys on both sides of the case said eight jurors voted in favor of the university, believing that Genentech's version of human growth hormone violated a UCSF patent. One juror refused to go along with the verdict, the attorneys said.
On a lesser issue, whether the UCSF patent was valid in the first place, the jurors ruled unanimously that it was.
The outcome was a blow to UCSF, which has battled in the courts for nine years to prove that Genentech, the world's first biotech company, stole important research done in 1978, at the dawn of the biotech era. But Gerald P. Dodson, the university's lead lawyer in the case, said he was heartened by the 8-1 split in favor of his client and would pursue another trial.
"Genentech can't take much comfort in this," Dodson said. "They had one wild-hair juror who was openly not following the law or the evidence. The jury foreman said there was just no way of reasoning with him at all."
Attorneys for Genentech disputed this assessment and said they looked forward to trying the case again. They had lamented that they were blindsided by the testimony of Peter Seeburg, a former Genentech employee who took the stand for the university and claimed the company stole UCSF research. Next time, the attorneys said, they'll be better prepared to defend themselves.
"We consider this a victory," said Sean Johnston, vice president for intellectual property at Genentech. "We know much better the sort of allegations that have been made against us and are now better prepared to deal with those."
Johnston would not rule out a settlement, but Genentech has fought the case so hard for so long that Dodson, the university attorney, said he considered that unlikely.
"Genentech's pattern over the last 20 years has been to conceal this and to hide from the truth," Dodson said. "And I think that pattern will continue."