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Helicos Adds Illumina, Life Tech as Defendants in PacBio Patent Lawsuit

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By Julia Karow

This article was originally published Oct. 25.

Helicos BioSciences has included Illumina and Life Technologies as additional defendants in its ongoing patent lawsuit against Pacific Biosciences, the company said this week.

In its amended complaint, filed last week in the US District Court for the District of Delaware, Helicos claims that all three companies willfully infringe five of its US patents, which cover sequencing-by-synthesis methods. The company seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages from the defendants.

Helicos initially sued Pacific Biosciences in late August, shortly after the firm filed for an initial public offering, claiming that PacBio infringes four of its US patents (IS 8/31/2010).

More recently, Helicos said it had embarked on a new strategy to "vigorously defend" its intellectual property, which comprises about 48 patents and 90 patent applications (IS 10/19/2010).

The addition of Illumina and Life Tech to the suit is in line with this new strategic initiative "to maximize the return to our shareholders on the technology investments that we have made," Ivan Trifunovich, who recently became president and CEO of Helicos, said in a statement.

"After a careful examination of the sequencing products and technologies offered by Illumina and Life Technologies, we are convinced that they, in addition to Pacific Biosciences, infringe the Helicos patents, which are in full force and effect up through 2028," he said.

The suit involves US Patent Nos. 7,645,596; 7,037,687; 7,169,560; 7,767,400; and 7,595,109, which expire between 2019 and 2028. These patents "broadly cover key features of sequencing-by-synthesis technology," in particular SBS methods using labeled nucleotides, according to Helicos, which it claims all three companies have incorporated into their respective sequencing systems and products.

Helicos said that its patented SBS and sample detection technologies are "at the heart of the defendants' sequencing technology platforms, all of which infringe multiple claims in several patents."

Specifically, Helicos claims that PacBio's single-molecule real-time SMRT technology, which is currently available to early-access customers, infringes the '596, '687, '560, and '400 patents.

Helicos also alleges that Life Technologies' single-molecule real-time quantum dot nanocrystal technology, which is still in development, infringes the '596, '687, and '560 patents. However, it did not accuse Life Tech's Applied Biosystems SOLiD platform of any infringement in this suit.

In addition, Helicos said that Illumina's sequencing technology infringes the '687, '560, and '109 patents. In a statement, Helicos noted that "critical detection components" in Illumina's Genome Analyzer and HiSeq 2000 instruments infringe the '109 patent.

According to Helicos, specific claims in the patents apply both to real-time sequencing, used by PacBio and Life Tech, and to stepwise sequencing approaches, implemented by Illumina.

PacBio had claimed in an earlier response to the suit that the Helicos patents only cover stepwise sequencing approaches and not real-time sequencing (IS 9/7/2010).

Helicos is implementing its patent enforcement strategy at a time of mounting financial troubles. As of Sept. 20, the company had $2.3 million in cash and cash equivalents and it announced a round of layoffs and reduced customer support last month (IS 9/28/2010).

Illumina and Life Tech declined to comment on the lawsuit for this article.

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