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Facing off with a university in court is something no inventor wants to do. Talk about your experiences or potential issues.

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PET-CT Scanner Inventor Victim of Malicious Litigation

When the University of Pittsburgh recruited world renowned physicist Dr. David Townsend to join its faculty in 1993, he never dreamt his tenure there would end amid spurious legal attacks on his character and ethics.

 

The preeminent inventor and his collaborator developed a means of integrating the Positron Emission Tomograph (PET) and Computerized Axial Tomograph (CT) scanners to greatly improve imaging results and, as a result, saving the lives of countless cancer patients.

 

But when his invention began to realize multimillion-dollar potential, Pitt unleashed a team of lawyers who filed a lawsuit charging that Townsend "breached certain contracts, tortiously interfered with contractual relations, breached fiduciary duties, misappropriated or converted proprietary interests and rights, engaged in an unlawful conspiracy, committed fraud and misrepresentations, and was unjustly enriched by his actions."

 

Dr. Townsend said he was floored when he first read the lawsuit, in which Pitt laid claim to a share of the profits from the PET/CT invention. He maintains that the university did nothing to contribute to the invention and was well aware he had been working on it long before he joined the Pitt faculty.

 

"When I read the first filing about conspiracy and fiduciary responsibilities and all the rest of it, to say I was scared would have been an understatement. I mean we were being accused of conspiring to defraud the University of Pittsburgh. It was all nonsense, but the way it was couched in legal terms, it scared me to death... They just throw everything at you and see what sticks and in the end nothing stuck," Townsend said.

 

"A bunch of university lawyers sat together and said 'we have a case here, he screwed the university and let's put together a suit that accuses him of everything short of murder'", Townsend said, reflecting on the four-year legal battle he fought between 2003 and 2007.

 

Townsend's case shows what can happen when cash-strapped universities unleash ruthless lawyers on their faculty inventors in the wanton pursuit of profits from intellectual property.

 

The case against Townsend was eventually thrown out, but other faculty inventors have not been so lucky. Frightened by the prospect of costly and protracted legal battles, many simply surrender the rights to their work without a fight.

 

"This kind of thing is getting more and more common because the universities are more and more desperate for funding. They look upon taking this intellectual property as a way of generating a huge amount of funds," Townsend said.

 

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Comments

Comments : 3 - Last Post : Apr 15, 2009 12:44 PM by: ipadvocate
re: PET-CT Scanner Inventor Victim of Malicious Litigation
Posted by geraldm: Apr 13, 2009 8:24 AM

Everyone is in trouble when the lawyers are left in charge... Whether or not a plaintiff or litigant, university or professor ever sees a dime in these cases, the attorneys for both sides walk away profitable. So whose best interests are being served? Not the school, not the researcher certainly...

re: PET-CT Scanner Inventor Victim of Malicious Litigation
Posted by mmiller: Apr 15, 2009 10:58 AM

Was it the universities or the lawyers who were calling the shots here? It seems like once they get into court and the lawyers take charge, the cases take on a life of their own.

re: PET-CT Scanner Inventor Victim of Malicious Litigation
Posted by ipadvocate: Apr 15, 2009 12:44 PM

That is a very astute observation - it is absolutely in the best interests of the attorneys to prolong the legal process. An amicable settlement may benefit the plaintiff and defendant, but not the attorneys, so they may push for the litigation to continue instead. Filing more briefs and motions, calling more witnesses and "experts" drives up the attorneys' fees. Unfortunately, this does good only for the lawyers and not for society at large. And more than costing universities and inventors millions in legal fees, there are often injunctions involved that can slow the translation from invention to treatment for those in need.

 
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