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10x Genomics Lawsuit Over Exclusivity of Harvard Single-Cell IP License Going to Trial

NEW YORK – A lawsuit filed by 10x Genomics in 2018, alleging that competitor 1CellBio improperly holds a license to intellectual property covering single-cell sequencing technology, went to trial in a Massachusetts court this week.

Harvard University licensed the IP to both companies. The patents are associated with droplet microfluidic technology developed in part by 1CellBio founder and Harvard professor David Weitz. 10x's Chromium platform and 1CellBio's inDrop system both use droplet-based microfluidics for single-cell analysis.

Pleasanton, California-based 10x initially filed the suit against Harvard and 1CellBio in October 2018 in the Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. According to a joint pretrial memorandum, 10x claims it is entitled to an exclusive license to certain patent rights covering droplet-based microfluidics used in single-cell sequencing technology.

"10x [Genomics] has alleged that Harvard and 1CellBio violated the express conditions of a license agreement between 10x and Harvard when Harvard issued a co-exclusive license to a holding company owned by Professor [David] Weitz (now 1CellBio)," a 10x spokesperson said in an email. "10x seeks a judicial declaration that it is the exclusive licensee to the Harvard patents at issue and that any license held to the patents by 1CellBio is invalid."

"1CellBio is confident in its position but will have no further statement given the ongoing legal proceedings," a 1CellBio spokesperson said in an email.

In the memo, the defendants characterized the 10x suit as an "[assertion] that 10x should be allowed to substitute its judgment for Harvard's in order to destroy 1CellBio's established business." 1CellBio said that 10x does not have standing and that its complaint "fails to state a claim." According to 1CellBio, in 2017 "10x approached 1CellBio and sought its confidential financial and business information under the guise of interest in a potential merger." But 1CellBio alleged that 10x "was never interested in a merger – instead, it intended to use the information for anti-competitive purposes."

The suit concerns rights to patents held by Harvard and covering methods developed in part by Weitz, along with Harvard Medical School's Allon Klein and Marc Kirschner. Weitz was also involved in the development of Drop-seq, a droplet-based RNA-seq method developed by the Broad Institute's Aviv Regev and Harvard's Steven McCarroll.

In 2013, 10x Cofounder and current CSO Ben Hindson approached Harvard about licensing certain patents and in September 2013, Harvard licensed  those patent rights, covering technology developed by Weitz and including "exclusive rights" to patent family 2915,to 10x. However, the exclusive license came with a major carve out: Harvard retained the right to grant "co-exclusive" rights to a company founded by Weitz, with certain stipulations: that company would have to submit a detailed development plan to Harvard within two years of the 10x license's effective date and receive at least $1 million in funding from an external source within three years.

Weitz founded three companies between 2013 and 2014, including 3BG, Dew Drop Investments, and 1CellBio, the latter based in Watertown, Massachusetts. In September 2015, Harvard granted 3BG a co-exclusive license for the 2915 patent family. In late 2016, 3BG merged with 1CellBio, with the company retaining the latter name.

10x claims that evidence provided at trial will show that 1CellBio did not meet the business plan and $1 million funding milestone requirements.

In a statement included in the pretrial memo, the defendants said that "Harvard and 1CellBio agree that all the development milestones have been met."

10x said it expects the trial over its request for a declaratory judgment, which will not be decided by a jury, to last until Jan. 30.

In addition to Weitz, Klein, Kirschner, and Hindson, potential witnesses include 10x CEO Serge Saxonov and Alan Gordon, director of business development at Harvard's Office of Technology Development.

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