The US Supreme Court heard arguments this week from both sides of a 10-year debate that essentially pits the interests of the research tool industry against those of drug developers.

The case tests the limits of an imprecise federal law, which states that researchers conducting experiments reasonably related to new drug approvals do not have to pay licensing fees to use proprietary products. One side argues that if extended to cover too many experiments, the exemption could hurt the research tool industry, which depends on licensing fees. However, as it stands, those fees may be limiting drug development, the opponents note.

The debate has divided the life sciences industry, with large pharmaceutical companies and patient advocates lending support to drug developers and tool makers throwing their hats in the ring for the research tool industry.

If the Supreme Court sides in favor of the drug developers, intellectual property rights to...

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