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Protogene Is Looking to License Out Its Patent Estate

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Protogene, a beleaguered protein chip company based in Menlo Park, Calif., is looking to license out its patent estate. The company, which has been reduced to a skeleton staff of two from a high of 93 employees in April of this year, believes that it still has something to offer the biochip market.

Protogene’s technology is based on the idea that differing surface tensions can segregate different fluids within an array. The company made custom oligonucleotide DNA arrays combining this surface tension technology with in situ synthesis of oligos and high-speed inkjet printing.

This technology presents appeal to companies manufacturing protein chips as well as DNA chips, according to Bob Barrett, Protogene’s vice president, sales and marketing. “We weren’t kidding people when we said we believe that use of surface tension would make for a higher quality deposition and control on the array. With the use of the surface tension pattern you are actually creating a situation where you are controlling where reagents are put and how tightly controlled they are in a localized area.”

The technology also offers promise in the mass spectrometry arena, according to Barrett. “We can isolate reagents on stainless steel surfaces that mass spectrometry companies use.”

The IP in Protogene’s portfolio includes US Patent Numbers 6,210,894, 6,177,558, 6,011,311, and 5,985,551.

Patent Numbers 6,210,894 and 5,985,551, which are both entitled “Method and apparatus for conducting an array of chemical reactions on a support surface,” describe methods for making arrays where chemical reactions are localized on the support surface, and methods for sequencing oligonucleotides and identifying peptide amino acid sequences by binding the molecules to arrays of peptides.

Patent Number 6,177,558, “Method and composition for chemical synthesis using high boiling point organic solvents to control evaporation,” offers a method wherein a high boiling point solvent is added to the reagents on the binding site for a probe on an array. The high boiling point solvent reduces the reagent solution’s evaporation rate during synthesis on the chip, while enabling the reaction to maintain a high yield, according to the invention.

Patent Number 6,001,311, “Apparatus for diverse chemical synthesis using two-dimensional array,” details a chemical synthesis apparatus that includes an array of nozzles, each of which is coupled with a base assembly with an array of reaction wells. The nozzles and reaction wells are aligned longitudinally (on the X-axis) so the reagent can be deposited into reaction wells. A group of sliders moves columns of nozzles laterally (along the Y-axis) so the nozzles can deposit fluid in selected wells along that column. A sliding seal encloses the reaction well and nozzles, and a gas outlet removes fumes from the reaction wells.

Protogene is looking to license this technology out either exclusively or non-exclusively, said Barrett.

— MMJ

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