Japan upholds patent of Md. firm BioWhittaker retains rights for allergy kit in promising market

September 10, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

BioWhittaker Inc., a biotechnology firm based in Frederick County, has successfully protected its patent on an allergy detection kit in Japan, a potentially lucrative market for the technology.

The publicly held company's patent on the blood-testing kit had been challenged in Japan by Pharmacia AB, a holding company of Pharmacia Upjohn, the Swedish-American drugmaker.

The decision by the Japanese Patent Office means a key market for the diagnostic product is now protected for the company, said Philip L. Rohrer, chief financial officer for BioWhittaker.

Pharmacia had no immediate comment on the decision.

Rohrer declined to estimate potential revenues from the kit in Japan. Using a blood sample, BioWhittaker's detection system can detect sensitivity to a variety of allergens, the substances that cause an allergic reaction.

Rohrer said Japan is considered one of the largest markets for the kit because blood tests are the preferred testing method for allergies. Skin tests are the most widely used method in the United States.

Rohrer said the Patent Office decision allows the company to seek settlements and royalty agreements with any firm infringing on the patent. He said legal action also was an option.

"We've defended our intellectual property and will do whatever it takes from here to protect our shareholders' stake," Rohrer said.

Pharmacia, one of the world's market leaders in allergy detection, makes and markets an allergy detection kit that is similar to BioWhittaker's.

In December 1994, BioWhittaker settled a lawsuit out of court that it had filed against Pharmacia. In the suit, BioWhittaker claimed patent infringement on the diagnostic product.

The out-of-court agreement between the two companies calls for BioWhittaker to receive royalties from sales of Pharmacia's kit in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

BioWhittaker was unable to seek a similar agreement for the allergy detection system in Europe, another key market, because a patent on it there hasn't been upheld.

BioWhittaker sued Minnesota, Mining and Manufacturing, which sold the allergy detection technology to the Frederick County firm in 1991. The suit alleged that 3M failed to properly file for patent protection on the kit in Europe.

But late last month, BioWhittaker lost the lawsuit when a Frederick County jury found for 3M on all counts.

BioWhittaker, which had net profits of $7 million on sales of $55.8 million in 1995, said it would take a one-time charge of $3.4 million for legal costs arising from that lawsuit.

Rohrer said executives have yet to discuss whether the company should appeal the jury decision.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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