Dr. Stephen Badylak of Purdue University and Alan Spievack of Harvard University were independently researching the use of Extracellular Matrix (ECM) in tissue re-growth using similar, but not identical processes. While Badylak was working with human tissue regeneration, Spievack's research was for veterinary application.
Spievack met Badylak at a conference where the Purdue researcher was speaking. After their meeting, Spievack began working with tissue from a canine bladder and successfully healed a poison ivy outbreak on his own leg. Spievack shared his results with Badylak, but importantly, this was after Purdue had filed for a patent on Badylak's innovation and after the official date of Spievack's invention.
These dates are important because any communication between the two scientists had no effect on their inventions or the patents pertaining to them because these events had already occurred.
However, Purdue terminated Badylak without notice and filed a lawsuit against both researchers in conjunction with Cook Biotech, a company that had licensed Badylak's technology from Purdue.
The lawsuit sought nearly $2 million in damages and also demanded the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office add five Purdue researchers, including Badylak, to Spievack's patents.
Though the court rejected the university's charges, as is often the case, the suit cost Purdue hefty legal fees and the loss of a valuable researcher. Badylak moved on to the University of Pittsburgh where he continued his work in the Department of Surgery and Director of Tissue Engineering at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
But more important than legal fees is the concept that researchers must be cut off from one another or risk potential litigation. For the entire history of mankind, science has built on itself and today's modern researchers stand on the shoulders of the giants before them. Will innovation stagnate because academic inventors are prohibited from sharing their findings and collaborating in a healthy exchange of ideas for the betterment of mankind?