WASHINGTON (CN) – Georgetown College sued two former employees who refuse to give up their patent rights to inventions for “Project Argus,” a federally funded project for “technology capable of supporting a worldwide biosurveillance system” that can detect outbreaks of disease before they become pandemics.
Georgetown says six joint inventors from Georgetown worked on Project Argus inventions, but defendants Dr. James Wilson and Mark Polyak refused to assign their rights to the university when they resigned in spring 2008.
Georgetown’s Imaging Science and Information Center collaborated with the nonprofit Mitre Corp. to create Argus, which was awarded the National Intelligence Medallion in 2008, the college said.
Wilson spoke about the project at a 2005 Georgetown conference on infectious diseases, hailing Argus as the first attempt to produce intelligence on foreign bioevents so that the United States can avert a catastrophic epidemic.
Named after the 100-eyed sentinel from Greek mythology, Argus technologies study early indications and warnings of infectious disease to give responders notice before an epidemic peaks and is harder to contain.
At the 2005 Georgetown conference, another speaker introduced a doctrine of biosurveillance that would govern the project’s access to “sensitive material” but not classified data in monitoring outbreaks.
“Because no single public law governs such heterogeneous data, investigators have analyzed numerous sources, including federal laws, Executive Orders, international directives, agency policies and procedures, Congressional testimony, and reports by governmental and nongovernmental bodies [to create] the Biosurveillance Doctrine, a document that thoroughly explains conditions under which Project Argus will acquire, analyze, protect, and use data,” Georgetown said in a statement about the conference.
After three years of development, Argus became operational in June 2007 and has already detected outbreaks before they became pandemics, according to a 2008 article in Security Management Magazine.
Argus followed the appearance of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the spread of the H5N1 avian flu from China into Russia and a minor hoof-and-mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom.
Security Risk Solutions, a South Carolina-based consulting firm, supports the project in a statement on its Web site.
“Instead of waiting for reports from local doctors and hospitals, Argus uses software that treats the Earth’s communications almost like a giant EKG, looking for certain kinds of spikes in global information networks,” Security Risk says. “Search programs zero in on key words on the Internet and in news media that might indicate an epidemic, such as heavy rates of absenteeism, runs on pharmaceutical drugs, and migration away from villages and towns.”
Georgetown says its employment policy requires the defendants to surrender their patent rights and it seeks an order directing them to do so. Georgetown is represented by Thomas Hentoff with Williams & Connolly.