Case | HBS Case Collection | September 2010 (Revised July 2013)

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals: Building Value from the IP Estate

by Willy C. Shih and Sen Chai

Abstract

The learning objective of this case is to help students recognize the interplay between intellectual property (IP) rights and corporate strategy. We do this by examining what is a fairly atypical circumstance today in which a single firm is able to secure what it perceives to be a frontier IP "estate" that blocks competitors from "practicing" in a significant part of the field. Those who elect to sign a license agreement must pay a high license fee and therefore help to fund the company's R&D. The company, meanwhile, must balance the immediate benefit of non-dilutive financing obtainable from the license fees vs. enabling a potential future competitor. The case setting is a lawsuit over a seemingly arcane issue: whether one of the co-owners of a key patent application is properly prosecuting the application. Understanding the issue requires students to progressively build up an understanding of some key aspects of U.S. patent law. Then by piecing together the strategy of the company and how it is driven by its IP position, students can understand why the litigation represents such a high stakes gamble.

Keywords: Patents; Lawsuits and Litigation; Rights; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Biotechnology Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; United States;

Citation:

Shih, Willy C., and Sen Chai. "Alnylam Pharmaceuticals: Building Value from the IP Estate." Harvard Business School Case 611-009, September 2010. (Revised July 2013.)