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Appeals Court Affirms 2009 Outcome of Applied Biosystems, Illumina Patent Suit

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This article was originally published April 5.

A US appeals court two weeks ago affirmed the 2009 outcome of a patent dispute between Life Technologies' Applied Biosystems group, Illumina, its predecessor Solexa, and ABI's former patent counsel Stephen Macevicz regarding ownership and infringement of three patents covering sequencing-by-ligation technology.

The quarrel over the three related patents — US Patent Nos. 5,750,341; 6,306,597; and 5,969,119, all entitled "DNA sequencing by parallel oligonucleotide extensions" — started in 2006 and came to a conclusion in early 2009, when a jury in the US District Court for the Northern District of California decided that the patents belong to Illumina and Macevicz, and that Life Technologies' SOLiD platform does not infringe any of them. The court also decided that a claim in one of the patents is invalid (IS 2/3/2009).

Subsequently, ABI appealed the district court's denial of its motions for "judgment as a matter of law" or a new trial regarding ownership of the patents and validity of the '119 patent. Solexa, for its part, cross-appealed the court's judgment that the SOLiD platform does not infringe the '597 patent and that claim 1 of that patent is invalid. In a disposition dated March 25, 2010, three judges from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed "all of the appealed orders and judgments."

With regard to the patents' ownership, the judges confirmed that Macevicz did not violate his employment contract when he filed for the patents in his own name.

They also found that claim 1 of the '119 patent is valid because it was not obvious to "one skilled in the art" to make an oligonucleotide probe that was both cleavable and labeled.

Finally, they agreed that the district court properly construed certain terms of claim 1 of the '597 patent, so the patent is invalid and the SOLiD platform does not infringe it.

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