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Blue Heron Gains Exclusive License to Amgen Gene Synthesis Patent

NEW YORK, July 10  Blue Heron Biotechnology obtained the exclusive worldwide license to an Amgen gene synthesis patent, the company announced Tuesday.

The patent, issued in the United States in 1987 and several countries thereafter, describes rapid procedures for the synthesis of linear, double stranded DNA. Blue Heron, based in Bothell, Wash., is the sole licensee and has the right to sublicense the intellectual property. Amgen retains certain rights to practice under the patent.

Blue Heron would not disclose financial details of the agreement.

"The patent is broad and covers most methods of gene synthesis," said Blue Heron founder and chief scientific officer John Mulligan. "Our customers are conservative about intellectual property. We want to make sure we are completely covered" so as not to entangle a customer in an IP dispute, he added to explain why the company sought an exclusive license to the patent.

Blue Heron, founded in 1999, currently has ten biotech customers on a fee-for-service basis for its first product, a high throughput gene synthesis platform called GeneMaker. Mulligan said the service is attractive for companies seeking sequences for hard-to-clone genes, native cDNA gene variants, and complicated fragments.

While the patent will expire in three years in the US, two-and-a-half years in Europe, and four years in Canada, Mulligan said Blue Heron was developing its own IP, including already-filed patent applications, focused on taking gene synthesis from a complicated bench-level process to an assembly line. "We are making the process higher fidelity and more reliable," said Mulligan.

Peter Nicholson, CEO of Blue Heron, said the intention of licensing the patent was not to litigate. "We don't want to be the company suing the industry," he said. "Our intent is to reassure our customers that we are well protected."

Nicholson added that licensing the patent may have the effect of blocking the emergence of potential competition. "This is a capital intensive game. If you are a venture capitalist, a cloudy IP landscape will make you more circumspect as an investor."

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