Episode 705: The Muscle Patents : Planet Money Two bodybuilders go at it over a Stanford University patent. And we dive in to make sense of it.

Episode 705: The Muscle Patents

Episode 705: The Muscle Patents

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Cameron Robert/NPR
Pump Bol, a workout supplement containing arginine.
Cameron Robert/NPR

Bodybuilders are competitive. They are tough. And when former-bodybuilder Jared Wheat was pushed, he pushed back.

Wheat runs a company that makes workout supplements. He's got one for stamina. He's got one for virility. These products are supposed to help you get more out of your workout.

And in these products of his, there is this one ingredient that's causing a big fight: arginine. It is an amino acid found in nature, a basic building block of life. Many people say it is supposed to improve blood flow. It has existed since long before humans, and it has been used by bodybuilders for decades. But now, Jared Wheat is being sued over a patent on arginine. The guy suing him? Also a former bodybuilder.

What makes this beef between bodybuilders stand out is where the patent comes from: a prestigious research university. A scientist was looking into whether arginine could help fight heart disease. He got a patent on what he found. But his research hit a dead end, and, through a complicated series of events, his noble patent got caught up in a fracas between two bodybuilders and their lawyers. Naturally, we dove in.

Today on the show, we find out how it all went down and what it says about university research.

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