Nutrition 21 holds a total of 36 patents, 27 of which relate to chromium compounds. Amongst other uses, the three patents in question relate to the administration of chromium picolinate to reduce hyperglycemia and stabilize serum glucose levels, increase lean body mass, to treat high levels of blood serum lipids, and to increase HDL cholesterol or lower LDL cholesterol levels in blood serum.
The company wants GNC to be enjoined from selling any chromium picolinate that is not purchased from Nutrition 21 in products that are intended for the patented uses. It is also seeking damages to cover lost profits, and a trebling of damages for what it calls "willful infringement of the patents-in-suit."
Nutrition 21's Chromax is the chromium picolinate most often used in research. A study presented at the Experimental Biology conference earlier this year showed that chromium picolinate has superior absorption to other types of chromium - a finding that could lead supplement manufacturers to rethink their formulations.
Just last month the company announced that Dr Ron Slesinski, president of the regulatory & safety specialty section of the Society of Toxicology, had provided further evidence of the compound's safety with a study that seemed to refute its link to genetic damage in hamster ovary cells.
The first clinical trial into the effects of chromium supplementation in children with type-1 diabetes also got underway at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles in January.
In full year 2004 Nutrition 21 devoted $2.38 million to its own research and development efforts. Patents, trademarks and other intangible assets were valued at $8.72 million.