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Twist Bioscience Files Response to Agilent Technologies Lawsuit

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Nearly a year after Agilent Technologies filed a lawsuit against Twist Bioscience alleging theft of intellectual property, Twist has filed a response denying the allegations and calling Agilent's suit an attempt "to stifle the legitimate and innovative work of a burgeoning start-up company and one of its top executives."

The response, filed with the Superior Court of the State of California, contains more than a dozen points supporting a "general denial" of Agilent's allegations, as well as 23 separate affirmative defenses.

The original suit, filed in February 2016, claimed that Twist, its Cofounder and current CEO Emily LeProust, and 20 other unnamed defendants had stolen a certain genomics technology from Agilent. "Emily LeProust is a scientist who, in a premeditated plan, stole industry-leading genomics technology from her longtime employer, Agilent Technologies, to start her own competitive company, Twist Bioscience," the complaint read.

As an Agilent employee, LeProust was tasked with developing and improving the company's DNA oligonucleotide synthesis technologies, but instead of putting the company first, she "secretly laid the groundwork for a theft of Agilent technology" more than a year before leaving the company, according to the court documents. Agilent further alleges that LeProust used her remaining 14 months at the company to develop and perfect the technology Twist now sells, and even pitched her ideas to venture capitalists, all while still working for Agilent.

Agilent also alleges that LeProust tried to sell technology now marketed by Twist to Gen9 in February 2013. According to the original complaint, Gen9 recognized the technology as Agilent's and ended the meeting with LeProust. Gen9 received a $21 million investment from Agilent two months later.

The firm was acquired by organism design company Ginkgo Bioworks earlier this month.

In its response to Agilent's suit, Twist denied any wrongdoing and disputed the idea that Agilent had been damaged in any way. In fact, Twist said, the suit was filed merely to stymie Twist's work, to "suffocate the creation of new technology and solutions by a new business, and to diminish the freedom of innovators and entrepreneurs to seek out more fulfilling work and succeed elsewhere."

The response delves into Twist's story of its origins as a collaboration between Cofounder and current Chief Technology Officer Bill Peck and Cofounder and current Chief Operating Officer Bill Banyai, and their idea for a new oligonucleotide synthesis and gene assembly technology for the synthetic DNA market.

"Banyai and Peck began independently developing their start-up idea in 2011 while working together at Complete Genomics, which had long been using synthesized oligos to sequence human genomic DNA patterned on silicon chips," Twist said in its court papers. "Banyai and Peck conceived — and later refined through collaboration with other brilliant and accomplished scientists and engineers — innovative silicon-based technologies and other innovations for synthesizing custom oligos and assembling them into longer synthetic DNA constructs. These innovations are the subject of multiple patent applications filed by Twist."

Further, the papers noted, those patents are not in dispute and Agilent is not alleging that those patents contain any of its trade secrets.

As to LeProust, Twist disputed Agilent's allegations that she deliberately fell down on the job as she was preparing to leave the company. Rather, LeProust remained a loyal employee until her departure in April 2013, and "faithfully performed her Agilent duties while employed there, each year meeting, and exceeding, the goals set for her," according to Twist.

Indeed, Twist added, the very timing of Agilent's suit is a clue to the real motive behind it, namely "only after waiting and watching Twist's success, and failing to perform in the marketplace on its own, has Agilent turned to litigation…. Despite supposed concern that its trade secrets were being misused and its interests harmed, Agilent waited to file suit until after the media publicly reported an infusion of tens of millions of dollars of new investor capital in Twist."

Twist also disputed the notion that it even needed Agilent's technology at all. "Agilent has based this lawsuit on the misguided conceit that Agilent's way of printing DNA, which was designed as an assembly line for glass-slide microarrays, is the only way Twist could have achieved the results it did with synthesized oligos, and that Twist must therefore be using Agilent's technology," the court papers noted. "What Agilent fails to realize is that Twist's technology, unlike Agilent's, was purpose built from the start for creating commercial synthetic genes, which allowed for engineering trade-offs that Agilent did not consider or could not implement."

Twist has requested that the court dismiss Agilent's suit and compensate Twist for the cost of its attorneys' fees.

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