• December 18, 2015

Cell_Culture_in_a_tiny_Petri_dishMany of us are aware of momentous scientific progress in recent years in growing human tissue in laboratories –livers, kidneys, anal sphincters, ears and so on. (At least you’ve heard about the livers and kidneys, right?)

Very few of us, however, have stopped to think in depth about this process, or have thought about the practical limitations and constraints of current technology.

Mr. John R. Wilson, a Minnesotan, has spent quite a bit of time considering said limitations and constraints. In particular, the process of culturing cells to make human tissue apparently takes up a huge amount of physical space. Mr. Wilson and his company, Wilson Wolf Manufacturing Company, developed a potentially game-changing solution to the challenge.

Did high-tech manufacturing behemoth, Corning Inc. steal Wilson’s ideas?

This morning, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank (D. Minn.) hears argument on summary judgment motions in Wilson v. Corning Inc. I would like to share the summary judgment papers with you all but they are filed under seal (here’s the court’s docket record reflecting that the case has been going on quietly for over two years).

So, unfortunately, the claims and defenses cannot be laid out in the open for all to see and for us to decide for ourselves what went on here.

Mr. Wilson’s complaint, linked here, was not sealed and sets out the allegations, at least. (Here is Corning’s Answer, which, like most formal answers to complaints in U.S. civil litigation, can be summarized: “DID NOT.”)

What I find interesting about this case is the way it embodies the pas de deux of private entrepreneurialism and public funding. Note in the complaint that Wilson Wolf is in the business of identifying and tackling challenging technical problems, obtaining Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Institutes of Health.  With the support of the public money, he then enlists larger, more established companies to bring the innovative solutions to market more quickly (enriching the private companies and improving the lives of the rest of us).

sheffield_handcar_drawing (1)If Wilson succeeds in his civil action in U.S. district court, it would be another rotation of the wheel of progress thanks to the collaboration between public resources and private innovation.

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