A Native American tribe that paid Stanford to research a cannabis-based solution to the opioid epidemic is suing the university for trying to patent an invention that arose out of the research.
According to the lawsuit, Tulalip Tribes paid Stanford $3.2 million to study how cannabis oil could treat opioid addiction and Alzheimer’s. Rather than handing over the research, Stanford professors instead applied for a patent without telling the tribes first, the lawsuit says.
The Washington-based tribal group was interested in both helping its members and making money from a solution to the global opioid epidemic, the lawsuit says. At least 58 tribal members have died from opioid overdoses since 2006, according to the lawsuit filed on Oct. 1 in Seattle’s federal court.
The tribes and Stanford’s Behavioral and Functional Neuroscience Laboratory signed a contract in 2018, and professors began conducting their research. They extracted THC and CBD from marijuana, and then gave it to rats to treat their opioid dependence and regulate the expression of a gene that leads to Alzheimer’s.
After three years of research, professors Annelise Barron and Mehradad Shamloo presented their progress to the tribes in June.
Shamloo said they had come up with two new inventions: a unique way of extracting THC from cannabis flowers, and a small molecule with THC that could treat addiction.
Shamloo said both the extraction process and the product could be patented, according to the lawsuit.
Then, the professors told the tribes that Stanford had already filed for a patent application for the small molecule, the lawsuit says.
The tribe claims that the university used the tribes’ confidential information, equipment and funding to do so. “Stanford has embarked on a strategy to appropriate and commercialize intellectual property that belong to (the Tulalip Tribes),” the lawsuit says.
The tribes are asking a judge to order Stanford to stop applying for a patent, to give the patent application to the tribe, and to pay damages for a breach of contract.
Stanford spokeswoman Julie Greicius said the complaint is the result of a misunderstanding, and the university is investigating it. The university hasn’t been served, she said.
“Stanford denies the allegations in the complaint and hopes to resolve this dispute amicably with the Tribes,” she said.