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Cornell Files Objection to Forced Arbitration With Life Tech

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Cornell University and Cornell Research Foundation filed an objection on Friday to a US District Court judge's order that they enter into arbitration proceedings to resolve allegations of fraud against Life Technologies (now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific) and Illumina.

The basis for this legal wrangling — a patent infringement suit first brought by Life Tech and Cornell against Illumina in 2010 — was dismissed in April 2017 when the parties jointly agreed to settle. However, in September, Cornell and Life Tech were granted separate motions by the court to file exhibits for in camera, or private, review by the judge, with Cornell demanding the settlement be vacated and alleging fraudulent behavior on the part of both Illumina and Life Tech, its putative co-plaintiff.

Cornell further alleged that Life Tech had made a deal with Illumina behind Cornell's back. Life Tech "made misrepresentations to Cornell and concealed a broader settlement agreement with Illumina to fraudulently induce Cornell to execute the settlement agreement," the September court filings stated. Cornell was seeking to submit documents to the judge for review that it said would prove its claims.

In January, however, Judge Mary Pat Thynge rejected Cornell's motion to vacate the settlement and ordered that the parties submit to arbitration instead. In her order, the judge said that the licensing agreement "contains a valid clause requiring mediation or arbitration of disputes" and recommended that Cornell's motion to vacate the settlement be put on hold pending the outcome of an alternative dispute resolution process.

Cornell's objection, though, claims that the settlement documents contain no applicable arbitration agreement, and that the judge had no basis to compel arbitration with Life Tech. In fact, the university said in its court filing, the arbitration clause is in a completely different document — its licensing agreement with Life Tech, which was signed in 2009.

Further, Cornell added, the order handed down by the judge failed to set parameters for arbitration. "Even assuming aspects of the dispute are arbitrable, the Memorandum Order fails to set forth the metes and bounds of the compelled arbitration. The Memorandum Order does not provide guidance on whether Cornell must arbitrate all its claims and relief sought in the Rule 60 Motion, or only a subset, with the other claims for relief reserved for the Court," the filing said. "The failure of the Memorandum Order to address these critical issues renders its ruling both ambiguous and prejudicial to Cornell."

Life Tech could use these circumstances against Cornell and then deny the university the chance to seek further relief in court, the filing added.

The university asked that if it is forced into arbitration, it be given much clearer boundaries and guidelines for the arbitration process.