This update serves to clarify that a trial mentioned in an earlier version of this story is in fact unrelated to the sequencer dispute covered in the article. The original reference to the second trial, which covers PCR patents, has been removed from the story.
Huang, a virologist at Washington University, filed suit last year against Caltech, Applied Biosystems, and the sequencer patent holders, contending that his work was the foundation of the DNA sequencer developed in Lee Hood's Caltech lab and that his name was left off the ensuing patents.
Huang originally asked that most of the principals on the patents - Lee Hood, Mike Hunkapiller, Tim Hunkapiller, and Charles Connell - be removed and that the patents be amended to show Huang and existing principal Lloyd Smith as the sole inventors. According to the judge's ruling, filed last Wednesday, Huang eventually narrowed his claim to seeking that his name be added to these patents, allowing all of the currently listed inventors to remain.
Huang worked in Lee Hood's lab from 1977 to 1982, and spent a good amount of time during that period lab trying to design an automated DNA sequencer. He experimented with various techniques but never built a functional instrument before leaving for a teaching position at
By the time Caltech and ABI announced their working sequencer in June 1986, Huang assumed it was completely different from his efforts and didn't even review the patent at the time. But when he finally looked into it, he told Genome Technology in 2002, the main points of the patent - optical detection process, fluorescent dyes, four colors in one lane, software to capture data and convert it to sequence - "are the key concepts that I had come up with pretty much before the summer of 1982."
But Huang's conviction was not enough to persuade the judge, who wrote in her decision: "In light of the fact that inventorship must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, this Court finds that Dr. Huang has not carried his burden proving that he was an inventor" of the disputed patents. A key reason for her verdict, she noted, was that the majority of Huang's evidence - mostly lab notebooks - was not corroborated or witnessed by other people.
Judge Pfaelzer also wrote that the Court "found Dr. Huang to be a credible witness, and is not convinced that he had no role at all in the development of the technology at issue here." Huang and his lawyers could not be reached for comment today on whether they plan to appeal the decision.
Edward Reines, who represented Applied Biosystems and most of the patent holders, said: "The documentation [presented by Huang] was unreliable. ... The evidence did not justify the inventorship claims."
"The inventors and the parties involved are obviously heartened that the question about inventorship has been removed, and we feel that this clears the way for the inventors to take their rightful place ... in history," Reines added.