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Operon Discontinues Sale of Arrays in N. America Due to Concerns about Affy Patents

NEW YORK, June 1 - Qiagen subsidiary Operon said it has discontinued sales of its pre-fabricated, medium-density OpArrays in North America, due to concerns that they might infringe on Affymetrix’s patent portfolio.

Operon attorneys have interpreted Affymetrix’s patents as covering any array with over 60 unique features per square centimeter, while they previously interpreted Affymetrix’s patents as covering any array with over 400 features per square centimeter. 

“Our OpArrays do not comply with this requirement, and we don’t want to take the risk of infringing on somebody else’s patent with our product,” said Sharon Draemel, Operon’s director of marketing. “Our lawyers decided that it was safest if we discontinued this product until we could work something out with Affymetrix or the patent is challenged.”

The company will continue to sell its OpArrays in Europe because the patents do not apply there. The company is still deciding whether or not to discontinue sales to Asia and elsewhere. “We are currently looking into whether we can continue to sell [the arrays] in Japan,” said Draemel. 

North American researchers can still purchase the arrays through Qiagen Europe, but only if the arrays are sent to a European address, said Draemel.

The pre-fabricated arrays Operon formerly offered include a human collage array with 320 genes related to a number of diseases and cell conditions; a similar yeast collage array; a human apoptosis array; a human cancer array; and a human stress and aging array. These arrays were developed with input from researchers in various fields. For example, the Bruce Ames lab at the University of California, Berkeley provided guidance on the genes included in the stress and aging array.

The company pitched these arrays, which were priced at between $325 and $900 for a two-slide set, as a low-cost alternative to Affymetrix arrays. Unlike Affymetrix arrays, they required no special chip reader or scanner. 

Operon additionally sought to distinguish the OpArrays by making them with long 70-mer oligonucleotides that only hybridize at a narrow range of temperatures in order to minimize the chances of random hybridization, said Dr. Ralph Sinibaldi, Operon’s vice president of scientific affairs.

The company has no plans to redesign the arrays in order to circumvent patent issues. “Sixty features per square centimeter means the max number of features would be 180,” said Draemel. “That’s below what anyone wants.”

However, Operon still plans to continue selling its other microarray product, the array-ready oligos, in North America.  The company is currently working on adding additional genes to its human and mouse array-ready oligo sets, to comport with the latest updates to the public sequence databases. The human upgrade should be ready within two months, and the mouse upgrade within six months, said Sinibaldi. Operon is also working on sets of drosophila , c. elegans , and arabdopsis  array-ready oligos.

This story originally appeared in BioArray News, GenomeWeb's new microarray and biochip newsletter.

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