At the start of June, Bio-Rad Laboratories announced an agreement to buy MJ GeneWorks — a holding company that includes MJ Research, MJ Bioworks, and MJ Japan — for $47 million in cash. The privately held MJ instrument companies, probably best known for their thermal cyclers, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier in the year and needed the acquisition as a result of their lawsuits with Applera, according to MJ CSO Mike Finney. He and his brother John are the founding “M” and “J” of the companies, which first opened in 1987 and now have upwards of 300 employees.
A key verdict was delivered against MJ this spring in its ongoing PCR litigation with Applera for as much as $19.8 million — the exact amount to be decided later. That represented just the first phase of the lawsuit and may leave grounds for an appeal, says Finney: “All [the court] heard was their case against us. Our defenses are still waiting to be heard.” That second phase is slated to begin in late July. But while MJ might have had the patience for years in court, it didn’t have the coffers for it. “We are too small a company,” Finney says. “We don’t have enough resources to go against a huge company like that.”
That’s why, he says, by April the company began looking at two alternatives: settling with Applera and getting an equity investment to cover the expense, or selling MJ to a company that “already had a license under all of ABI’s patents because in that case a settlement is not necessary,” Finney says. After contacting parties for both options, MJ entertained more than one offer and finally negotiated the deal with Bio-Rad, he adds.
There are no plans for layoffs, Finney says, and “at least for the moment, from the customers’ point of view, pretty much everything will stay the same. … [MJ] will continue to design, manufacture, sell, and service the same products we had before.” While no final operational decisions have been made, Finney says that “Bio-Rad has a history of letting the companies that they acquire operate fairly independently.” Meantime, he and his brother will stay with the company for 18 months, though that doesn’t preclude them from staying longer.
And as for the lawsuits, everything’s still moving forward at this point, says Finney. That includes the PCR suit as well as the suit MJ has entered on behalf of the US government to overturn the DNA sequencer patents held by Caltech and licensed by ABI. Much of that suit is based on claims that Henry Huang was an unrecognized inventor of the sequencer; in a separate lawsuit by Huang himself that was decided in February, a judge ruled in favor of ABI and Caltech.
— Meredith Salisbury