SCOTTISH firms Wright Johnstone & Mackenzie and McGrigor Donald have shown that biotechnology companies north of the border do not have to go to London for cutting edge intellectual property advice.
The firms advised research organisation the Roslin Institute and 3i on how best to commercially exploit the techniques developed by the institute to create Dolly – the world-famous sheep clone.
Ken McCracken, intellectual property partner at Wright Johnstone & Mackenzie, said: 'We doff our caps to the City in many areas, but in this area we have the infrastructure in Scotland to provide legal and funding advice to biotechnology companies.'
Under the deal the institute and 3i's Edinburgh office set up a company called Roslin Bio-Med as a vehicle for commercial exploitation of the techniques.
The institute then granted licences to Roslin Bio-Med for the two patents the institute had obtained – called Quiescence and MAGIC – through its patent agents Kilburn & Strode.
3i will put in £6m-worth of funding in staged payments, in return for a 43 per cent shareholding in Roslin Bio-Med. The institute will hold another 43 per cent with the remainder being available for existing and future staff of the company.
The funds develop technology to be used for 'xenotransplantation', the use of animal organs in human transplants.
McGrigor Donald head of technology Shonaig Macpherson advised 3i on the intellectual property aspects of the deal, including assessing the strength of the patent protection.
Macpherson said that both 3i and McGrigor Donald were satisfied that the technology was innovatory, despite claims by an American and an Italian scientist – emphatically denied by the institute – that there had been mistakes in the original research, and that it had not yet been replicated by other laboratories. McGrigors also put in place the necessary licensing arrangements.
Wrights' McCracken said that, because the research was ground-breaking, the legal advice given on its exploitation was 'quite different from that for a normal start-up venture'.
He added that the constitutional status of the institute – a charity limited by guarantee which is under the umbrella of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council – had added to the complexity of the corporate arrangements.
McCracken was keen, however, to steer clear of the controversy over the ethics of the technology, although he did say that the ethical debate was 'about 10 years behind the technological developments'.
According to McCracken the technology has a wide range of applications and interest in commercially using the techniques had already been 'colossal'.