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Court Rules In Pfizer's Favor In Norvasc Patent Case, Finds Synthon Obtained Patent By Inequitable Conduct

NEW YORK, Jan. 31 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria) has ruled that Synthon IP obtained, by inequitable conduct, two U.S. patents alleged to cover a process and an intermediate compound used to make the active ingredient in Pfizer's widely-prescribed hypertension medication, Norvasc, Pfizer said today.

Pfizer said the court found that Synthon had knowingly failed to disclose to the U.S. Patent Office Pfizer publications and other information it had in its possession that described the process Synthon sought to patent. "It's very difficult to meet the standards for establishing inequitable conduct," said Allen Waxman, Pfizer's general counsel. "But in this case it is clear that Synthon improperly used Pfizer's own published material to obtain a patent that it then tried to enforce against us."

Pfizer said it intends to seek attorneys' fees from Synthon. The case may be appealed.

Synthon had asserted that Pfizer's process for manufacturing Norvasc --a process Pfizer had not only published but has been using for 15 years --infringed Synthon patents issued in 2003 and 2005. In August of last year, a jury unanimously ruled that one of those patents was not infringed by Pfizer and was invalid on multiple grounds, principally because it was based on Pfizer's prior published work. Synthon had dropped its claim of infringement on the second patent prior to trial.

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Chips push through nano-barrier

The next milestone in the relentless pursuit of smaller, higher performance microchips has been unveiled.

Chip-maker Intel has announced that it will start producing processors using transistors with features just 45 nanometres (billionth of a metre) wide.

Shrinking the technology that underpins the basic building blocks of chips will make them faster and more efficient.

Computer giant IBM has also signalled its intention to start production of microchips using the technology.

"Big Blue", which developed the technology with partners Toshiba, Sony and AMD, intends to incorporate the transistors into its chips in 2008.

Full story.

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$5 million grant goes to MU

Money will help upgrade College of Engineering
By JOHN SCHMID
jschmid@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Jan. 30, 2007

Marquette University on Tuesday announced a $5 million contribution toward a "transformation" of its College of Engineering, which if successful would advance the region's scramble to compete in research, technology and scientific innovation.

"In some senses, Milwaukee is playing catch-up," said Stanley Jaskolski, dean of Marquette's engineering college.

The grant from an alumni couple, Jim and Kelly McShane, adds momentum to a $167 million campaign to modernize Marquette's engineering curriculum and hire "game-changing, world-class faculty," Jaskolski said. The university also hired an architect to design a new engineering building to be called the Discovery Learning Complex.

Full story.

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Third Wave gains from patent fight

By Jeff Richgels
Third Wave Technologies Inc. today announced that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with Stratagene Corp. that includes a $10.75 million cash payment by Stratagene to Third Wave.


The settlement stems from Third Wave's win over Stratagene in a patent battle that began in 2004.

A federal court jury in Madison found in September 2005 that the California company infringed on two of Madison-based Third Wave's patents, awarding Third Wave $5.3 million. Judge Barbara Crabb later tripled the damages to $15.9 million in the case, which Stratagene was appealing.

Stratagene also has a separate lawsuit pending against Third Wave in Delaware.

Under terms of the settlement announced today, the two companies agreed to stay any further litigation for nine months, and to either seek dismissal without prejudice or an extension of the trial date for the Delaware lawsuit.

The companies also agreed to resolve that case or any other disputes by either arbitration or a royalty-bearing license.

Full story.

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Therese M. Newholm, JD Joins Gehrke & Associates, S.C.

Gehrke & Associates, S.C. is pleased to announce that Therese M. Newholm, JD has been named of counsel to the firm. She is a registered patent attorney whose practice focuses on patent prosecution, reexamination and reissue proceedings, PCT applications, and appeal practices. She will be augmenting Gehrke & Associates, S.C.'s growing patent practice.

Therese is a former Patent Examiner and earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a J.D. from George Mason University-School of Law.

More info.

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Rockwell, UWM finally teaming up

$1 million grant aimed at fostering technology research program
By JOHN SCHMID
jschmid@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Jan. 22, 2007

Rockwell Automation's chief executive flew halfway around the world this month to cut a ribbon at a technology lab at the University of Pune in India, where the Milwaukee-based company aims to train engineering students and hire them when they graduate.

Such long-haul trips have become commonplace for Rockwell executives, who for years have endowed research centers at top engineering schools across Asia, Europe and the United States. Rockwell has 29 alliances with research universities in China alone.

Conspicuous by its absence in Rockwell's global strategy, until now, has been the largest university in the company's own hometown.

The industrial automation concern is preparing to announce this week a $1 million grant to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a first step toward a technology research program tailored to bolster the region's manufacturing industry, Rockwell and UWM officials said.

Full story.

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Certain fees for stem cells waived

DAVID WAHLBERG dwahlberg@madison.com

Licenses and fees of up to $400,000 will be waived for non-commercial stem-cell research, UW-Madison's tech transfer organization said Monday in a move welcomed by researchers who had complained the cost impeded their work.

"This is a really good step in the right direction," said Jeanne Loring, a stem-cell researcher in California. She joined consumer watchdog groups last year in forcing a federal review of the university's wide-ranging stem-cell patents. The review continues.

"I think they were getting a lot of pressure from researchers all over the world," Loring said.

Full story.

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Nanopolymers make their debut

Researchers in the US have made a new class of materials called "nanopolymers" -- the first nanoscale equivalents of polymers. The breakthrough was made by Francesco Stellacci and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and involves introducing defects onto two opposing areas on the surface of spherical-shaped metallic nanoparticles. The resulting divalent particles are then chained together to make freestanding films (Science 315 358).

Nanoparticles are nanometre-sized collections of atoms that can be used as building blocks to make a wide variety of materials, such as supercrystals or ionic liquids. However, they lack the ability to bond along specific directions -- like atoms and molecules do -- which means they are not easily joined together to make large structures like filaments or films. This is because nanoparticles are typically coated with a capping layer to prevent further growth or clustering.

Now, Stellacci and colleagues have found a way to overcome this problem. The researchers effectively break the symmetry of the round nanoparticles by bonding two different types of ligand, such as thiol molecules, onto the poles of the spheres. The ligands on one nanoparticle are then free to bond with the ligands on the other particles so they can then be chained together to form the nanoscale equivalent of polymers (figures 1 & 2). The chaining reaction, which takes just a few hours, is very similar to way nylon polymerizes to form chains, says Stellacci.

Full story.

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Synchrotron accelerates neutral molecules

A synchrotron that can accelerate neutral -- rather than charged -- particles has been unveiled by physicists in Germany. The device opens up the possibility of colliding neutral molecules at temperatures close to absolute zero, where molecules behave less like particles and more like waves (Nature Physics doi:10.1038/nphys513).

Synchrotrons are large circular devices in which particles – usually electrons – are made to travel near the speed of light round a ring using a combination of electric and magnetic fields. Since the first charged-particle synchrotrons were constructed in the 1940s, physicists have toyed with the idea of a neutral-particle synchrotron. In principle, "polar" molecules, which have a small electric dipole, could be accelerated in a synchrotron using a large electric field that switches at high speed. Unfortunately, the technology to do so was not available, and idea lay dormant.

Full story.

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New Technique Stores and Retrieves Entire Image from a Single Photon

Ultra-Dense Optical Storage — on One Photon

Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.

While the initial test image consists of only a few hundred pixels, a tremendous amount of information can be stored with the new technique.

The image, a "UR" for the University of Rochester, was made using a single pulse of light and the team can fit as many as a hundred of these pulses at once into a tiny, four-inch cell. Squeezing that much information into so small a space and retrieving it intact opens the door to optical buffering—storing information as light.

"It sort of sounds impossible, but instead of storing just ones and zeros, we're storing an entire image," says John Howell, assistant professor of physics and leader of the team that created the device, which is revealed in today's online issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. "It's analogous to the difference between snapping a picture with a single pixel and doing it with a camera—this is like a 6-megapixel camera."

"You can have a tremendous amount of information in a pulse of light, but normally if you try to buffer it, you can lose much of that information," says Ryan Camacho, Howell's graduate student and lead author on the article. "We're showing it's possible to pull out an enormous amount of information with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio even with very low light levels."

Full story.

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Nanopolymers make their debut

19 January 2007

Researchers in the US have made a new class of materials called "nanopolymers" -- the first nanoscale equivalents of polymers. The breakthrough was made by Francesco Stellacci and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and involves introducing defects onto two opposing areas on the surface of spherical-shaped metallic nanoparticles. The resulting divalent particles are then chained together to make freestanding films (Science 315 358).

Full story.

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Research removes major obstacle from mass production of tiny circuits

In dispensing nanoimprint lithography, liquid droplets on the surface of a silicon wafer are pressed into a pattern, which quickly hardens to form the desired circuitry.

As they eliminate tiny air bubbles that form when liquid droplets are molded into intricate circuits, a Princeton-led team is dissolving a sizable obstacle to the mass production of smaller, cheaper microchips.

Led by Stephen Chou, the Joseph C. Elgin Professor of Engineering at Princeton, the team worked to troubleshoot one form of nanoimprint lithography, a revolutionary method invented by Chou in the 1990s. Nanoimprint uses a nanometer-scale mold to pattern computer chips and other nanostructures, and is in marked contrast to conventional methods that use beams of light, electrons or ions to carve designs onto devices.

Continue reading "Research removes major obstacle from mass production of tiny circuits" »

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Medical College of Wisconsin Wins Major NIH Grant to Develop Rapid Outpatient Device to Detect Bird Flu and Bioterror Agents

In response to the federal government’s high priority for accelerated research to combat bird flu and bioterrorism, the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has been awarded a five-year, $8.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop a rapid, miniaturized, automated diagnostic device to test for avian flu and the majority of potential bioterrorism agents. The device would be used in an outpatient setting.

The new integrated device the researchers are developing may allow cost effective, point-of-care diagnosis of these agents within one to two hours, according to principal investigator Kelly Henrickson, M.D., professor of pediatrics and microbiology at the Medical College. Dr. Henrickson is also a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Dr. Henrickson previously developed the Hexaplex diagnostic test, using specialized reagents and genetic data for rapid, accurate simultaneous detection of the seven most common lower respiratory viruses, including several varieties of influenza. This technology is the basis for an array of products for physicians worldwide to rapidly detect the microbes responsible for a variety of illnesses such as aseptic meningitis, chicken pox, chronic cough syndrome, encephalitis, herpes, influenza, pneumonia, SARS, shingles, and West Nile virus.

“Our laboratory has pioneered a flexible, rapid, sensitive and specific method of simultaneously detecting multiple pathogens,” says Dr. Henrickson. “We have recently developed two BioTplex assays that detect many (15) category ‘A’ bioterrorism agents. However, new amplified DNA detection and nucleic acid purification methods beyond those used in the Hexaplex diagnostic test allow for the development of a single ‘point-of-care’ device that may enhance the speed, flexibility, throughput, and cost effectiveness of multiplex assays.”

Continue reading "Medical College of Wisconsin Wins Major NIH Grant to Develop Rapid Outpatient Device to Detect Bird Flu and Bioterror Agents " »

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'Embryo bank': new hope or too far?

A Texas fertility center's methods raise concerns about 'designing'babies. Some say they're not much different from the usual practice.
By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In an era when infertile couples often look to test tubes or surrogate mothers to create children, the notion of egg or sperm donors is hardly novel.

Yet a San Antonio woman's idea to bring the two together – creating complete embryos ready to be implanted into the womb – has drawn a raft of criticism, with bioethicists debating whether this is the commodification of children or just another – perhaps more effective – way to help people become parents.

The "embryo bank" at the Abraham Center of Life isn't a storage bank so much as an intermediary that creates embryos from anonymous donors of both sperm and egg, for a waiting list of interested parents.

But the ethical debate around selling such embryos has called attention to the delicate balance between harnessing reproductive technology to help people achieve cherished dreams of bearing children and the danger of selective genetics in the hopes of creating "designer babies." It's also, say some critics, one more example of why more oversight is needed in a field that is advancing rapidly but has had almost no regulation.

Full story.

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U of MN adult stem cell research shows promise for transplant therapies

Four publications show MAPC findings are replicable and solid

University of Minnesota stem cell researchers, together with collaborators at Stanford University, have successfully used adult stem cells to replace the immune system and bone marrow of mice, offering the promise of new therapies for people in the future. With this advance and other recent discoveries, the researchers are winning over previous skeptics.

For decades, researchers have tried in the lab to expand hematopoietic stem cells (cells that give rise to the blood system). Success in this venture would mean increasing the supply of cells available for bone marrow transplant patients. The researchers used multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs), which can be isolated from bone marrow and have the ability in the laboratory to differentiate into different specific types of cells such as liver, bone and neural cells.

Catherine Verfaillie, M.D., director of the University's Stem Cell Institute, first identified MAPCs in 2001. Since then, many in the scientific community have been skeptical of their existence and their functioning as Verfaillie has described. This skepticism mostly arose due to difficulty in reliably growing these cells, which made reproduction in other labs problematic. Since their identification, the methods to isolate and grow MAPCs have been improved (see publication in Experimental Hematology, October 2006). This latest research will be available online from the Journal of Experimental Medicine on January 15; it will appear in the Jan. 22, 2007; print edition of the journal.

Verfaillie and her team isolated MAPCs from mice and expanded them for at least 80 doublings in the lab. They then transplanted the cells into mice that received radiation and thus had no immune system.

"The cells not only survived when transplanted but they completely repopulated the blood system of the mice," Verfaillie said. The MAPCs did not differentiate into other cell types, such as liver or brain cells, nor did they form tumors in any animals.

Continue reading "U of MN adult stem cell research shows promise for transplant therapies" »

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Researchers First to Map Gene that Regulates Adult Stem Cell Growth

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 15, 2007) − A new discovery in stem cell research may mean big things for cancer patients in the future. Gary Van Zant, Ph.D., and a research team at the University of Kentucky published their findings today in Nature Genetics, an international scientific journal.

The researchers genetically mapped a stem cell gene and its protein product, Laxetin, and building on that effort, carried the investigation all the way through to the identification of the gene itself. This is the first time such a complete study on a stem cell gene has been carried out. This particular gene is important because it helps regulate the number of adult stem cells in the body, particularly in bone marrow. Now that it has been identified, researchers hope the gene, along with its protein product Latexin, can be used clinically, such as for ramping up the stem cell count in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.

The researchers agreed that this very process is not only interesting, but important because of its usefulness in a wide variety of future genetics studies.

Full story.

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Public debate on hybrid embryos

The public will be asked whether scientists should be allowed to create hybrid human-animal embryos, regulators have announced.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority says it will not rule on any research applications until a consultation has been completed.

Ministers proposed outlawing such work after unfavourable public opinion.

Two UK teams have put in requests to mix human and animal cells in order to find cures for degenerative diseases.

PM Tony Blair last week said any new law would have "flexibility" to support scientific research that helped people.

There had been a question mark over whether it was within the HFEA's remit to licence such work.

But the HFEA says it should judge the work under the current law.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, explained: "These sorts of research would potentially fall with the remit of the HFEA to regulate and licence and would not be prohibited by the legislation.

"There needs to be a full and proper public debate and consultation as to whether, in principle, licences for these sorts of research could be granted."

Controversial

But she said from the evidence considered so far, the issue was "far from black and white".

Scientists say doing the work could provide cures for conditions such as Alzheimer's. But opponents say the research tampers with nature and is unethical.

Full story.

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On Stem Cell Legislation, a Reprise With Twists

Passage, Veto Likely as Supporters Wield New Power and Foes Cite New Alternatives

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007; A04

The House is expected to pass today, by a substantial margin, legislation that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research -- a bill identical to the one it passed in 2005.

Next month, the Senate is expected to do the same, as it did last year.

And all indications are that soon after that, Bush will, for the second time, veto the bill.

But the final outcome of this year's emotional fight over the science and ethics of stem cell research is not as predictable as it may seem, said scientists and congressional strategists on both sides of the issue.

Opponents of the research say they have never been stronger, not only because of the ongoing support of the president but also because several recent studies have suggested that non-embryonic cells have significant medical promise that may rival that of embryonic cells.

Proponents, however, have a new ace up their sleeve as well: the political shifts wrought by voters in November. With stem-cell-friendly Democrats in the majority for the first time since the cells were discovered in 1998, supporters of the research will be able to work Congress's complex rules in their favor.

Full story.

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Probe studies 'extreme physics'

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News, Seattle

A pioneering US space agency spacecraft is set to launch on a mission to explore the most energetic phenomena in the Universe.
The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (Glast) has been described as an "extreme physics" laboratory.

The probe is due to launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral base in November on a Boeing Delta II rocket.

The team presented details of the mission at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

As its name suggests, Glast will detect the emissions of gamma rays in space. Gamma rays are the most energetic form of radiation known to science.
Examples of energetic phenomena to be probed by Glast include active galaxies, which spew massive amounts of energy from their centres.

This explosive outpouring is thought to be powered by supermassive black holes.

Other targets for Glast include pulsars - rotating neutron stars which emit radio waves - as well as the remnants of exploded stars, and galaxy clusters.

Full story.

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House to pass stem cell research bill

House to pass stem cell research bill By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer

Their ranks bolstered by the November elections, supporters of legislation boosting taxpayer-funded research on embryonic stem cells were poised to easily pass the bill again even though President Bush vetoed it last year.

The House was to pass the bill Thursday. But the vote was virtually certain to fall short of the two-thirds margin needed to override another Bush veto, vote counters on both sides of the issue said.

Full story.

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Innovators are urged to put on thinking caps to unsnarl U.S. red tape

12:00 AM CST on Thursday, January 11, 2007
By VICTOR GODINEZ / The Dallas Morning News

IBM garnered more patents than any other company in the U.S. last year – more, in fact, than any company has ever received in a single year.

The technology giant's Texas operations were responsible for 677 of those 3,621 patents, second only to IBM's headquarters in Armonk, N.Y.

Those Texas patents, almost all from Austin, covered a variety of products, including the sophisticated processor inside Sony's PlayStation 3 video game console.

But IBM wants to spread the wealth.

So along with the announcement that it has won the top patent spot for the 14th consecutive year, IBM is unveiling an online program today called the Inventor's Forum.

The forum will be a place where entrepreneurs and small-business owners can share ideas and proposals on how to improve the patenting process.

Marc Ehrlich, an attorney in IBM's patent portfolio management team, said that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is overwhelmed by patent applications, many of which should not be granted because they're too obvious, broad or not new.

Even when the bad applications are weeded out, it takes time to sift through them, he said.

According to the patent office, the agency reviewed 332,000 patent applications in fiscal 2006, the most it has ever examined.

But the agency actually received more than 440,000 applications in that time.

That backlog occurred despite hiring more than 1,200 new patent examiners, and the agency plans to hire 1,000 more every year for the next five years.

"Even so, the volume of applications will continue to outpace the agency's capacity to examine them," the agency said in a news release last month. The patent and trademark office "continues to look for ways, beyond hiring, to reduce the backlog while maintaining examination quality."

IBM hopes some of its proposals can help stem the flood.

Full story.

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Light squeezes through nano coax

Physicists in the US have created the first nanoscale coaxial cables for the transmission of light. Operating much like the coaxial cables used to distribute television and radio signals, the cables can transmit light with wavelengths nearly four times their 200 nm diameter. The researchers claim that the ability to control light over sub-wavelength distances could lead to better optical microscopes, smaller computer chips and more efficient solar panels (Appl Phys Lett 90 021104)

Building a nano coax
Coaxial cables comprise an inner and outer conductor separated by an insulating dielectric layer and are used to transmit all manner of electromagnetic waves from radio to microwave. They are extremely useful because they can transmit waves with wavelengths much greater than their diameter, making cable television and other technologies possible.

Light is an electromagnetic wave so there is no reason why it cannot be transmitted in a similar manner via a coaxial cable -- but conventional wisdom had held that light could not travel through a cable of diameter less than its wavelength. Now, Boston College’s Jakub Rybczynski, Mike Naughton and colleagues realized that a coaxial could carry sub-wavelength light waves if it were miniaturized.

Their coaxial cable is based around a carbon nanotube, which forms the central conductor (see "Building a nano coax"). The nanotube is surrounded by a concentric ring of transparent aluminium oxide -- which acts as the dielectric layer -- and finally a concentric metal ring that acts as the outer conductor. The separation between the inner and outer conductors is about 100 nm.

Full story.

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An Obvious Patent Law Fix?

An Obvious Patent Law Fix?
Matthew Swibel, 01.10.07, 6:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. -
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the narrow issue of whether an adjustable gas pedal with an electronic sensor that moves according to a driver's height is too “obvious" an invention to warrant patent protection.

But a trade group representing some of the nation's biggest patent holders, including Apple, Autodesk and Microsoft as well as IBM, have filed briefs urging the nation's top court to use the case as an opportunity to confront a broader problem in patent law: The standard for proving something is "obvious" has been set too high by the courts.

If the burden of proof for obviousness were lower, it would be easier to invalidate the glut of so-called junk patents that software, hardware and other technology companies view as threatening to the way they do business.

The big patent holders aren't parties to the actual case. It began after KSR International of Canada began supplying General Motors with adjustable gas pedals for its SUVs. Teleflex had patented a similar device in 2001 that was used in trucks produced by Ford Motor. So Teleflex demanded royalties from KSR. KSR refused, and the lawyers were off and billing.

A U.S. District judge in Detroit agreed with KSR that Teleflex's patent wasn't valid, because combining a sensor with an adjustable pedal was just too obvious. Meaning any old Joe in the field could have thought up the combination, and so Teleflex's innovation wasn't special enough to warrant a patent.

The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned that decision because KSR failed to establish that some "'suggestion, teaching or motivation'" would have led a person of ordinary skill" in the field of automotive pedal technology to combine a sensor and a pedal to create Teleflex's device.

Confused about what makes an idea too obvious to warrant a patent? So are the guys in the black robes. The obvious test "adds a layer of jargon that lawyers can then bandy back and forth," Chief Justice John Roberts complained during oral arguments in late November. "It seems to me that it's worse than meaningless, because it complicates the inquiry rather than focusing on the statute."

Full story.

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Scientists discover stage at which an embryonic cell is fated to become a stem cell

Findings have important implications for stem-cell research

Cambridge scientists have discovered the stage at which some of the cells of a fertilised mammalian egg are fated to develop into stem cells and why this occurs. The findings of the study, which overturn the long-held belief that cells are the same until the fourth cleavage (division) of the embryo, are reported in today's edition of Nature.

After fertilisation, the cells of the embryo at first undergo equal, symmetrical divisions and unequal, asymmetrical ones that direct smaller daughter cells towards the inside of the embryo. These become the inner cell mass of stem cells. Previously, it was believed that the mammalian embryo starts its development with identical cells and only as these inside and outside cells form do differences between cells first emerge.

However, research led by Professor Magdelena Zernicka-Goetz, University of Cambridge, has revealed evidence to suggest that differences between the embryonic cells are already apparent at the 4-cell-stage, before the cells become partitioned between the inside or outside of the embryo. And those differences depend on the orientation and order of the very first cleavage divisions of the embryo.

Continue reading "Scientists discover stage at which an embryonic cell is fated to become a stem cell" »

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GM Introduces Plug-In Electric Car

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 8, 2007; A07

DETROIT, Jan. 7 -- General Motors Chairman G. Richard Wagoner Jr. on Sunday unveiled an innovative prototype, the Chevrolet Volt -- a plug-in vehicle that derives its power primarily from electricity rather than gasoline -- as the world's automakers take on global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Wagoner's announcement underscores the depth of GM's previous miscalculation on alternative vehicles and the degree to which the U.S. automotive landscape is changing. In 1990, GM introduced the concept of an all-electric car, the EV1. The vehicle made it to U.S. consumers but didn't survive through the decade.

GM hasn't given a date when consumers can buy the Volt because the advanced lithium-ion batteries needed to power the vehicle -- similar to technology used in cellphones -- are still years from widespread use in automobiles.

Full story.

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Biodiesel plants are set to take off

NATHAN LEAF nleaf@madison.com

As southern Wisconsin awaits the arrival of three large biodiesel plants, high soybean prices and declining petroleum prices have combined with a cooling demand for the fuel to dim the outlook for the booming industry.

Despite the uncertain future of the industry, Sanimax is nearing completion of a 20 million-gallon per year refinery next to its grease recycling plant in DeForest, while Midwest Biofuel is putting the final touches on its 10 million-gallon plant in Clinton. Both are expected to begin production in February.

And North Prairie Productions of Waterloo is expected to begin construction on an even larger plant, a 45 million-gallon facility in Evansville, in March.

Since reaching record prices near $80 per barrel in July, unseasonably warm weather has reduced the need for energy and driven the price of oil below $54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Those low prices have led to gasoline for less than $2.30 per gallon and petroleum diesel less than $2.70 per gallon. Meanwhile, 100 percent biodiesel was going for $3.13 per gallon Tuesday at PrairieFire Biofuels Cooperative on the Madison East Side. The price for cooperative members was $2.78 per gallon.

Soybean prices have put additional pressure on the industry as the 2007 crop saw a steady incline from the $6 mark per bushel in October to more than $7 in December, said David Fischer, UW-Extension's Dane County crops and soils agent.

But at least one area producer says the challenges will only change the landscape of the upstart biodiesel industry, not destroy it.

Full story.

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Experts home in on 'God particle'

Scientists may be closing in on the most sought-after particle in physics.

The hypothetical Higgs boson, often dubbed the "God particle", is fundamental to our understanding of the Universe but has yet to be detected.

Now, data from the Tevatron particle collider at Fermilab, in the US, has enabled the most precise calculation yet to be made for its predicted mass.

And this, the international team says, narrows the window in which to locate the elusive particle.

Adding weight

The Higgs boson has been proffered to explain the mystery of why other particles have mass, and forms the missing piece in the puzzle that is the Standard Model - the current theory used to describe the fundamental nature of matter.

For years, researchers have been searching the sub-atomic "soup" created when particles are smashed together in colliders - but no sign of the Higgs has been seen.

In obtaining a more precise predicted mass for the Higgs, the particle's existence can be confirmed or ruled out within two to three years, scientists believe.

The calculation has been done by making the finest measurement to date of the mass of another elementary particle, one that is well known, the W boson.

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State research tools firm earns angel financing

By KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
kgallagher@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Jan. 8, 2007

After snagging a top prize in the Governor's Business Plan Contest in 2004, a Middleton company that makes tools for drug research has landed at least $715,000 in angel investor funding.

Milwaukee-based Silicon Pastures has invested $465,000 in BioSystem Development LLC, and Marshfield Investment Partners will put in at least $250,000 more, directors of those angel investment networks said last week.

"BioSystem has a very committed founder who is committed to making the company a success, has an incredible Rolodex and knows how to get his foot in the door at pharmaceutical companies. And he has a lot of credibility because he's worked in start-ups previously," said Teresa Esser, managing director of Silicon Pastures.

BioSystem is pursuing a significant, but concentrated, potential market of big companies that do drug development, said James Hanke, director of Marshfield Investment Partners.

Scott Fulton, BioSystem's founder and chief executive officer, has bachelor's degrees in physics and applied biology and has a master's in biomedical engineering. He has more than 25 years of experience at large and small biotech companies in the Boston area.

BioSystem uses cartridges packed with small polymer beads that give drug developers a much faster way of doing protein analysis, Fulton said. Protein analysis is critical to discovering new drugs. The system allows drug researchers to do in 15 minutes analysis that now takes as long as a day, Fulton said. It also is about five times more precise, and it is automated, he said.

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Homing nanoparticles pack multiple assault on tumors

Homing nanoparticles pack multiple assault on tumors
Mimicking platelets' clotting action ensures greater tumor-homing efficacy

(La Jolla, CA., January 8, 2007) -- A collaborative team led by Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research at UC Santa Barbara (Burnham) has developed nanoparticles that seek out tumors and bind to their blood vessels, and then attract more nanoparticles to the tumor target. Using this system the team demonstrated that the homing nanoparticle could be used to deliver a "payload" of an imaging compound, and in the process act as a clotting agent, obstructing as much as 20% of the tumor blood vessels. These findings are pending publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will be made available at the journal's website during the week of January 8, 2007.

The promise of nanomedicine is based on the fact that a particle can perform more functions than a drug. Multifuncionality is demonstrated in the current study, in which researchers from Burnham, UC San Diego, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed a nanoparticle that combined tumor-homing, self-amplification of the homing, obstructing tumor blood flow, and imaging.

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The Pillow Angel Case--Three Bioethicists Weigh In

January 05, 2007

The Pillow Angel Case--Three Bioethicists Weigh In

We asked three of the country's most esteemed bioethicists to give their professional opinion--was the "Ashley Treatment" a wise decision?

By Christopher Mims

On January 3 of this year the parents of a girl with static encephalopathy, a disorder that leaves her unable to move and with the cognitive capacity of an infant, announced on a blog that they had been using hormones to stunt the growth of their daughter for medical and quality-of-life reasons. [More details are available via the original news report of the story.] The resulting, and very public, debate--much of it carried out in the comment thread of the original blog--has ranged from support for the parents to accusations of eugenics and worse.

In order to cut through the noise, we asked three bioethicists--doctors not unlike those who, as members of a medical ethics board, authorized the treatment in the first place--to relate their professional opinion of the case.

All three bioethicists came down firmly on the side of the parents and the decision of the original ethics board--but with a few reservations. Their discussion ranged from issues of privacy raised by the media frenzy surrounding this case to the question of whether or not this intervention is a technological fix for a social problem.

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U.S., Japan to simplify patent process, fight piracy

U.S., Japan to simplify patent process, fight piracy
Reuters
Monday, January 8, 2007; 5:34 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Japan announced on Monday plans to harmonize their patent systems, streamline patent application processes and jointly fight piracy and counterfeiting.

Unveiling the plan in Washington, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Japanese Trade Minister Akira Amari held up the program as a model to help economies based on innovation save time and money while boosting protection.

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Genetically Altered Cells May Help Artificial Skin Fight Infection

Cincinnati—Cincinnati burn researchers have created genetically modified skin cells that, when added to cultured skin substitutes, may help fight off potentially lethal infections in patients with severe burns.

Dorothy Supp, PhD, and her team found that skin cells that were genetically altered to produce higher levels of a protein known as human beta defensin 4 (HBD4) killed more bacteria than normal skin cells.

HBD4 is one in a class of proteins that exist throughout the body as part of its natural defense system. Researchers have only recently begun targeting these tiny molecules as a way to combat infections.

“If we can add these genetically modified cells to bioengineered skin substitutes, it would provide an important defense system boost during the initial grafting period, when the skin is most susceptible to infection,” explains Supp, an adjunct research associate professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and researcher at Cincinnati Shriners Hospital for Children.

Supp says defensins could become an effective alternative method for burn wound care and infection control. Using them in cultured skin substitutes, she adds, could also decrease a patient’s risk for infection, improve skin graft survival and reduce dependence on topical antibiotics.

UC researchers report these findings in the January issue of the Journal of Burn Care and Research.

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'Embryo Bank' Stirs Ethics Fears

'Embryo Bank' Stirs Ethics Fears
Firm Lets Clients Pick Among Fertilized Eggs

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 6, 2007; Page A01

A Texas company has started producing batches of ready-made embryos that single women and infertile couples can order after reviewing detailed information about the race, education, appearance, personality and other characteristics of the egg and sperm donors.

The Abraham Center of Life LLC of San Antonio, the first commercial dealer making embryos in advance for unspecified recipients, was created to help make it easier and more affordable for clients to have babies that match their preferences, according to its founder.

"We're just trying to help people have babies," said Jennalee Ryan, who arranged for an egg donor to start medical treatments to produce a second batch of embryos this week. "For me, that's what this is all about: helping make babies."

But the embryo brokerage, which calls itself "the world's first human embryo bank," raises alarm among some fertility experts and bioethicists, who say the service marks another disturbing step toward commercialization of human reproduction and "designer babies."

"We're increasingly treating children like commodities," said Mark A. Rothstein, a bioethicist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. "It's like you're ordering a computer from Dell: You give them the specs, and they put it in the mail. I don't think we should consider mail-order computers and other products the same way we consider children."

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Stem cells discovered in amniotic fluid

By PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer

Stem cell researchers reacted with enthusiasm and reservations to a report that scientists have found stem cells in amniotic fluid, a discovery that would allow them to sidestep the controversy over destroying embryos for research.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported Sunday that the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.

They reported they were able to extract the stem cells from the fluid, which cushions babies in the womb, without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

But Dr. Anthony Atala, head of Wake Forest's regenerative medicine institute and the senior researcher on the project, said the scientists still don't know exactly how many different cell types can be made from the stem cells found in amniotic fluid. The scientists said preliminary tests in patients are years away.

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Cancer-Killing Invention Also Harvests Stem Cells

Cancer-Killing Invention Also Harvests Stem Cells
(Associate Professor Michael King, Biomedical
Engineering)
by Lois H. Gresh

Associate Professor Michael King of the University of Rochester Biomedical Engineering Department has invented a device that filters the blood for cancer and stem cells. When he captures cancer cells, he kills them. When he captures stem cells, he harvests them for later use in tissue engineering, bone marrow transplants, and other applications that treat human disease and improve health. With Nichola Charles, Jared Kanofsky, and Jane L. Liesveld of the University of Rochester, King wrote about his discoveries in "Using Protein-Functionalized Microchannels for Stem Cell Separation," Paper No. ICNMM2006-96228, Proceedings of the ASME, June 2006. King’s team includes scientists at StemCapture, Inc., a Rochester company that bought the University patent for King’s technique in November 2005 to build the cancer-killing and stem cell-harvesting devices. The technique can be used in vivo, meaning a device is inserted in the body, or in vitro, in which case the device resides outside of the body – either way, the device kills cancer cells and captures stem cells, which grow into blood cells, bone, cartilage, and fat.

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METAMATERIALS FOUND TO WORK FOR VISIBLE LIGHT

Ames Laboratory researchers announce findings in Science

AMES, Iowa – For the first time ever, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have developed a material with a negative refractive index for visible light. Ames Laboratory senior physicist Costas Soukoulis, working with colleagues in Karlsruhe, Germany, designed a silver-based, mesh-like material that marks the latest advance in the rapidly evolving field of metamaterials, materials that could lead to a wide range of new applications as varied as ultrahigh-resolution imaging systems and cloaking devices.

The discovery, detailed in the Jan. 5 issue of Science and the Jan. 1 issue of Optic Letters, and noted in the journal Nature, marks a significant step forward from existing metamaterials that operate in the microwave or far infrared – but still invisible –regions of the spectrum. Those materials, announced this past summer, were heralded as the first step in creating an invisibility cloak.

Metamaterials, also known as left-handed materials, are exotic, artificially created materials that provide optical properties not found in natural materials. Natural materials refract light, or electromagnetic radiation, to the right of the incident beam at different angles and speeds. However, metamaterials make it possible to refract light to the left, or at a negative angle. This backward-bending characteristic provides scientists the ability to control light similar to the way they use semiconductors to control electricity, which opens a wide range of potential applications.

“Left-handed materials may one day lead to the development of a type of flat superlens that operates in the visible spectrum,” said Soukoulis, who is also an Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Such a lens would offer superior resolution over conventional technology, capturing details much smaller than one wavelength of light to vastly improve imaging for materials or biomedical applications,” such as giving researchers the power to see inside a human cell or diagnose disease in a baby still in the womb.

The challenge that Soukoulis and other scientists who work with metamaterials face is to fabricate them so that they refract light at ever smaller wavelengths. The “fishnet” design developed by Soukoulis’ group and produced by researchers Stefan Linden and Martin Wegener at the University of Karlsruhe was made by etching an array of holes into layers of silver and magnesium fluoride on a glass substrate. The holes are roughly 100 nanometers wide. For some perspective, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in diameter.

“We have fabricated for the first time a negative-index metamaterial with a refractive index of -0.6 at the red end of the visible spectrum (wavelength 780 nm),” said Soukoulis. “This is the smallest wavelength obtained so far.”

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Court Affirms $7 Million in Damages for Innogenetics in Patent Infringement Suit

Judge Denies Abbott Laboratories' Requests for New Trial

GENT, Belgium and MADISON, Wis., January 04, 2007 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Biotechnology Company Innogenetics announced today that a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Wisconsin affirmed a previously awarded $7 million damage verdict against Abbott Laboratories for infringing the company's HCV genotyping patent. In the same ruling the judge rejected Abbott's requests for a new trial on infringement and validity.

The January 3, 2007 order also granted Innogenetics' motion for prejudgment interest on the damage award and set a January 11 evidentiary hearing date to consider the company's request for a permanent injunction against Abbott's sale of infringing products. The judge's opinion vacated the jury's determination that Abbott willfully infringed Innogenetics' patent, and declined to award enhanced damages or attorneys fees.

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UD scientists discover new class of polymers

UD scientists discover new class of polymers

3:56 p.m., Jan. 2, 2007--They said it couldn't be done.

And that's what really motivated UD polymer chemist Chris Snively and Jochen Lauterbach, professor of chemical engineering at UD.

For years, polymer chemistry textbooks have stated that a whole class of little molecules called 1,2-disubstituted ethylenes could not be transformed into polymers--the stuff of which plastics and other materials are made.

However, the UD scientists were determined to prove the textbooks wrong. As a result of their persistence, the researchers have discovered a new class of ultra-thin polymer films with potential applications ranging from coating tiny microelectronic devices to plastic solar cells.

The discovery was reported as a “communication to the editor” in the Nov. 28 edition of Macromolecules, a scientific journal published by the American Chemical Society.

The research, which also involved doctoral student Seth Washburn, focused on formerly nonpolymerizable ethylenes. Among them are several compounds that are derived from natural sources, such as cinnamon, and are FDA-approved for use in fragrances and foods. One of the compounds is found in milkshakes, according to the scientists.

“There's been a rule that these molecules wouldn't polymerize,” Snively, who is a research associate in Lauterbach's laboratory group, noted. “When I first saw that in a textbook when I was in graduate school, I said to myself, 'Don't tell me I can't do this.'”

And thus, the quest to disprove a widely accepted scientific rule of thumb began.


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Cheaper LEDs from breakthrough in zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowire research, Nano Letters study says

Engineers at UC San Diego have synthesized a long-sought semiconducting material that may pave the way for an inexpensive new kind of light emitting diode (LED) that could compete with today's widely used gallium nitride LEDs, according to a new paper in the journal Nano Letters.

To build an LED, you need both positively and negatively charged semiconducting materials; and the engineers synthesized zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoscale cylinders that transport positive charges or "holes" – so-called "p-type ZnO nanowires." They are endowed with a supply of positive charge carrying holes that, for years, have been the missing ingredients that prevented engineers from building LEDs from ZnO nanowires. In contrast, making "n-type" ZnO nanowires that carrier negative charges (electrons) has not been a problem. In an LED, when an electron meets a hole, it falls into a lower energy level and releases energy in the form of a photon of light.

Deli Wang, an electrical and computer engineering professor from UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering, and colleagues at UCSD and Peking University, report synthesis of high quality p-type zinc oxide nanowires in a paper published online by the journal Nano Letters.

"Zinc oxide nanostructures are incredibly well studied because they are so easy to make. Now that we have p-type zinc oxide nanowires, the opportunities for LEDs and beyond are endless," said Wang.

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Hybrid molecule causes cancer cells to self-destruct

Hybrid molecule causes cancer cells to self-destruct
Lab tests of sugar and short-chain fatty acid combo point to new strategy to combat disease

By joining a sugar to a short-chain fatty acid compound, Johns Hopkins researchers have developed a two-pronged molecular weapon that kills cancer cells in lab tests. The researchers cautioned that their double-punch molecule, described in the December issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology, has not yet been tested on animals or humans. Nevertheless, they believe it represents a promising new strategy for fighting the deadly disease.

"For a long time, cancer researchers did not pay much attention to the use of sugars in fighting cancer," said Gopalan Sampathkumar, a postdoctoral fellow in the university's Department of Biomedical Engineering and lead author of the journal article. "But we found that when the right sugar is matched with the right chemical partner, it can deliver a powerful double-whammy against cancer cells."

Sampathkumar and his colleagues built upon 20-year-old findings that a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate can slow the spread of cancer cells. In the 1980s, researchers discovered that butyrate, which is formed naturally at high levels in the digestive system by symbiotic bacteria that feed on fiber, can restore healthy cell functioning.


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