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Signaling an End to Longstanding Litigation, Waters Integrates Acquity UPLC with ABI/MDS Sciex Mass Specs

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Waters and Applied Biosystems have reached a deal to integrate Waters’ Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system with ABI/MDS Sciex’s mass spectrometers, uniting two fierce competitors who not so very long ago seemed more interested in duking it out in the courtroom than collaborating on a business partnership.
 
Under the terms of the deal, announced late last week, Waters will develop software controls for the Acquity for use with ABI/MDS Sciex’s Analyst software. The agreement is similar to others signed by Waters earlier this year with Thermo Electron and Bruker Daltonics to integrate the Acquity system with their mass specs. Financial details of the agreement were not released.
 
While ABI/Sciex and Waters have collaborated before in the distant past, the Acquity deal is the first partnership between the two competitors in recent years.
 
“It’s a case where taking a more open systems approach for compatibility benefits scientists who are looking for more choices,” said Anthony Petrucci, a spokesman for ABI. The agreement is “is in keeping with AB's strategy of offering customers ease and flexibility in choosing any front-end LC system for Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex mass spectrometers,” he added.
 
A Waters official said the company was responding to user demands.
 
“The key reason we’re interested in doing this is that we have a significant number of customers who are in primarily bioanalysis laboratories [who] are interested in leveraging our Acquity technology with their already installed tandem quadrupole mass spectrometers,” Gene Cassis, Waters’ vice president of investor relations and worldwide development, told ProteoMonitor this week.
 
“ABI\MDS Sciex and Waters very much share the same customer base and I think both companies are getting requests from these customers to allow them to have the flexibility to use the Acquity technology,” Cassis added.
 
Still, just a few years ago, it was hard to imagine ABI and Waters collaborating on anything other than a corporate throwdown as a result of a series of patent imbroglios. A little more than two years ago, Waters paid ABI/MDS Sciex $18.1 million plus licensing fees to settle patent suits regarding the front-end ion guide technology used in some of Waters’ mass specs [PM 03-19-04].
 
When Waters announced that settlement, it also said it was paying an undisclosed amount to settle a separate suit filed by ABI/MDS Sciex over alleged violation of a patent for a MALDI ion source. Meanwhile, ABI/MDS Sciex agreed to pay Waters an undisclosed amount to settle yet another lawsuit alleging ABI/MDS Sciex had infringed on a Waters electrospray technology.
 
A year earlier, Waters paid ABI’s parent company Applera and MDS Sciex $56.2 million as part of federal court decision that the company had infringed on ABI/MDS Sciex’s patent covering a front-end ion tunnel technology used in some mass specs used by Micromass, at the time a wholly owned subsidiary of Waters [See PM 04-01-02 and 3-17-03].
 
That dispute forced Micromass to pull several mass spec product lines off the US market.
 
Cassis said that despite the animus that has existed between the two rivals, business concerns are forcing each company to turn the other cheek. While the deals with ABI/MDS as well as with Thermo and Bruker have the potential to eat into Waters’ mass spec business, Cassis said, “We’re in the business of putting together scientific instruments…And the reality is that [in] the world that we live in, at different times, different companies are going to have different positions and different technologies.”
 

“We’re in the business of putting together scientific instruments…And the reality is that [in] the world that we live in, at different times, different companies are going to have different positions and different technologies.”

The importance of the Acquity product line to Waters was highlighted during a conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings results. During the call, Douglas Berthiaume, president, chairman and CEO of Waters, singled out the Acquity Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography system, saying sales of the product were strong “across the wide array of applications and customer groups. At this point we appear to be on track to roughly double our UPLC system revenue this year in comparison to a very strong 2005 full-year result.” [See PM
 
Cassis said that mass spec customers are “sophisticated and they’re going to try to get the best solutions they can by bringing the best technologies together. I think Waters and other manufacturers in this space are…trying to deliver what they want.”
 
For scientists, the collaboration will mean a simplification of the research process. Current users of ABI mass specs who are also using the Acquity have had to use two separate PCs, one for the LC and one for the mass spec, “so the user must manage two sample queues and switch between computers to control the complete LC/MS system,” Petrucci said. The upcoming software “will enable the LC and MS control software to reside on one PC and enable the LC and MS methods to be merged into a single sample queue,” he added.
 
“What this collaboration allows [researchers] to do is to control the Acquity from their mass spectrometry data system. So it’s one point of control for the entire instrument,” Cassis said.
 

Neither ABI nor Waters would disclose when the Acquity software for the ABI/MDS Sciex system would be available, and it remains unclear how it will be priced. Cassis said that pricing for the software will be determined by ABI/MDS Sciex, while Petrucci said that Waters will be responsible for pricing and distributing the software along with the Acquity systems.

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