Enzo Biochem Inc. said Wednesday that it has filed suit againstCalgene Inc., alleging antisense patent infringement.
Enzo (ASE:ENZ) of Farmingdale, N.Y., filed the lawsuit in U.S.District Court for the District of Delaware on Tuesday, the sameday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patentcovering antisense technology in both lower and higherorganisms.
Enzo holds exclusive rights to the patent issued to the ResearchFoundation of the State University of New York (SUNY). Enzosaid that it began discussing the possibility of granting Calgenea license after Enzo won an interference proceeding last yearagainst the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
However, Calgene received a patent in April 1992 covering theuse of antisense technology in plant genes in all plants.
"They feel they're on safe ground," commented analyst WarrenBeck, who follows Calgene at United Daniels Securities in NewYork.
Enzo's suit "was not unexpected," Roger Salquist, Calgene's chiefexecutive officer, told BioWorld. "It doesn't affect us one iota."
The Davis, Calif., agriculture biotechnology company(NASDAQ:CGNE) announced Tuesday that it has finishedsubmitting data to FDA for an advisory ruling on the safety ofits Flavr Savr tomato, which has been altered to slow softening,ripen longer on the vine and last longer on the shelf. Antisensetechnology blocks activity of a gene by masking its message.
Flavr Savr tomatoes are expected to be the first geneticallyengineered whole plants to reach the market, perhaps in latesummer or early fall.
Barry Weiner, Enzo's executive vice president, told BioWorldthat his company is "exploring a variety of commercialrelationships to exploit the technology."
However, with the plant antisense patent rights tied up incourt, agricultural biotechnology analysts expect Enzo could beprevented from pursuing other plant gene licensingarrangements.
Calgene filed suit against Enzo on Feb. 5, seeking to invalidateEnzo's patent before it was issued.
Enzo, meanwhile is "very pleased" that the SUNY patent issued-- 10 years after it was initially filed. "It's been a long timecoming," Weiner said, "and just about covers everything. Wewill work to get the technology into utility."
However, analysts questioned the the utility of the technologyin plants.
"Should Enzo's patent cover stuff they didn't do?" asked JimMcCamant, publisher of the Agbiotech Stock Letter. "There'scertainly no evidence in the public sector they reduced it toplants."
"My bottom line is, I think this is going to get tied up in courtfor a long time," said analyst George Dahlman of Piper, Jaffrey& Hopwood in Minneapolis. "It would appear because of theactual existence of these two patents that neither side will beable to stop the other side from proceeding on with their plansuntil someone renders a legal decision."
Calgene's stock was unchanged Wednesday at $13.50; Enzo wasdown 63 cents a share to $7.75.
-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.