Friday, November 20, 2009

Canadian Inventor Sues State Research Universities

I like to toss "seed lawsuit" in the google search bar on occasion to see what's going on in the world-at-large beyond the comfortable confines of my office here in suburban Memphis, TN. I came across a story that I have posted on the reciprocal situation in the past. This time a Canadian inventor company sued three state universities from infringement. Duh-duh-duh-duuun, the plot has thickened on the agricultural patent landscape, and now no one is safe.

The full story can be found here, but I will give you a summary of the article. A Canadian inventor, Soheil Sharafabadi, claims that the University of Idaho in conjunction with Oregon State University and Washington State University infringed upon his patent to create new varieties of higher-yielding mustard seed. Obviously this is much further back in the litigation food-chain than a brownbagging case, as we have competing researchers claiming a "cheat" much like the ballyhoo of Irish in response to the Thierry Henry hand-ball situation.

Sharafabadi (more fun to spell than you think) claims that the research universities used his 1990 "Psuedoplastic Yellow Mustard Gum" patent in the development of U of I's new mustard seed varieties. Through his July 23, 2009 complaint, he claims that Idagold (developed by U of I) as well as more than two dozen other mustard seed varieties were developed by his patent. According to the article and Sharafabadi, the actual patented process consists of boiling the seeds to extract the "gum" or mucilage, which he claims is preferable and used by the Universities due to the alternative taking more time for extraction. The mucilage promotes water storage and germination that can lead to higher yields.

As a commenter noted on the article that at first blush the reporter makes this sound as if the Universities stole patented seeds and developed new lines, but rather this is purely a process patent infringement issue as noted in the previous paragraph. So, its not quite the "Escape from L.A." post-apocalyptic anarchy I foreshadowed in the beginning, but it is a slight twist of the stories that I have presented before.

This does not seem to be Sharafadi's first bout over his 1990 patent as can be seen on this website that seems to be set up by him himself, where it is claimed that there was some sort of plagiarism at the University of Manitoba by a Ph.D. candidate. The website is slightly disjointed and rather difficult to muddle through, but there is a letter by Sharafabadi explaining the educational deprivation that plagirism will bring upon the Canadian universities. Either way it seems a 1990 invention has brought Mr. Sharafabadi a 20 year plus fight.