Federal civil cases

Sarah McKenzie

The University’s legal team wades through 180 to 220 cases every three months, but two federal civil matters on the docket will stand out this fall.
In one of the cases, the Office of the General Counsel is involved in a patent dispute with Glaxo Wellcome, a pharmaceutical corporation that sells the anti-AIDS drug Ziagen. The University contends that compounds in the drug were developed by a University researcher and subject to patent laws.
General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the University is positioned to recover tens of millions of dollars in royalties from Ziagen sales if the lawsuit against Glaxo is successful.
Arguments will be heard by both sides in the dispute during a pretrial hearing in St. Paul federal court on Sept. 23.
“This is by far the biggest case the University has seen,” he said. “It is very important for two reasons. Number one, it is worth more than $100 million. Number two, it involves therapy for AIDS.”
Robert Vince, a professor and researcher in the College of Pharmacy, was licensed by Glaxo in 1988 to develop the technology for Ziagen and other related compounds.
Four years later, Glaxo and the University entered into a license agreement stipulating Glaxo’s exclusive right to produce and sell the compounds. The University, in return, would earn between 5 percent and 10 percent of sales on the compounds depending on its method of manufacture, according to the agreement.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the anti-AIDS drug last December.
According to the University’s original complaint, Glaxo has manufactured and sold the drug exclusively in the United Kingdom to avoid the license agreement with the University.
Glaxo officials dispute that claim and have also stated that Ziagen was developed without the University’s patented compounds.
“Our position is that we do not owe any royalties,” said Glaxo spokeswoman Ramona DuBose after the complaint was filed.
The litigation is being handled in federal court, despite attempts made by the University to have the matter handled in state court. U.S District Judge David Doty ruled in June that the matter did not belong in the lower court.
“(The) plaintiff’s right to relief therefore depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law,” Doty said.
The University had argued that the 11th Amendment bars moving the case from state court, but Doty disagreed.
Male professor suing for reverse discrimination
Another federal matter that might raise a few eyebrows in the next few months is a reverse discrimination lawsuit stemming from the 1980 “Rajender” consent decree.
In that landmark settlement, named for the first woman to file suit, the University awarded $3 million in pay raises to female faculty members.
Thirteen years later, business professor Ian Maitland sued the University for reverse discrimination, contesting the University’s decision to raise pay for women only.
Maitland’s attorney will file a motion this fall in an attempt to establish a class-action lawsuit.
Last September, a federal judge granted Maitland the right to trial by a federal appeals court.
“The Maitland case brings into question the whole policy — one that was designed to re-balance opportunities for women faculty,” Rotenberg said.
A University study on pay differences showed that women on average earned 2 percent less than men. The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the difference was statistically insignificant. However, the plaintiff’s study found a pay disparity between 4 percent and 10 percent.
The University and plaintiffs subsequently agreed to reach a settlement in the earlier case.