(CN) – Two University of Pittsburgh researchers won a patent ruling over their discovery that stem cells gleaned from liposuctioned fat could be used to produce bone, cartilage and muscle. The Federal Circuit rejected UCLA researchers’ bid to take credit as co-inventors.
In the late 1990s, doctors Adam Katz and Ramon Llull at the University of Pittsburgh explored the idea that mature fat cells could transform into a more primitive cell resembling a stem cell.
In April 1998, the two researchers and Marc Hedrick, who had joined the lab under a yearlong fellowship, announced their discovery that isolated fat cells could be transformed into fat, bone, cartilage and muscle tissues. They listed October 1996 as the date they first made the discovery.
When Hedrick’s fellowship ended, he returned to UCLA, where he continued to study fat-derived stem cells with researchers Prosper Benhaim, Hermann Peter Lorenz and Min Zhu.
The researchers at both universities filed patent applications for methods of transforming these fat-derived stem cells into other types of tissue.
In 2000, the University of Pittsburgh filed an international patent application listing Katz, Llull, Hedrick, Benhaim, Lorenz and Zhu as inventors, but later sought to remove the UCLA researchers from the list.
The district court ruled for the Pittsburgh researchers, saying they had come up with the invention before Hedrick’s fellowship.
On appeal, the UCLA researchers argued that Katz and Llull’s research was inconclusive until Hedrick and other researchers added to it. But that didn’t matter, according to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
“Proof that the invention works to a scientific certainty is reduction to practice,” Judge Mayer wrote. “Therefore, because the district court found evidence that Katz and Llull formed a definite and permanent idea of the cells’ inventive qualities, and had in fact observed them, it is immaterial that their knowledge was not scientifically certain and that the [defendant] researchers helped them gain such scientific certainty.”