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Lawsuit Against Illumina, Thermo Fisher, Others Alleges Fraud, Theft of Trade Secrets

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A lawsuit filed last Friday has made sweeping claims of trade secret theft and fraud against Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Affymetrix, and individuals in the genomics industry.

Monib Zirvi of Weill Cornell Medicine; Matthew Lubin, now an internist but previously director of medical genetics at Strang Cancer Prevention Center; and Maria Kempe of Lund University filed the suit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants misappropriated technology the plaintiffs developed including improved primers and probes for various types of PCR reactions and ligase detection reactions, as well as universal arrays for identifying nucleic acids or DNA changes.

Zirvi, while a doctoral student in Francis Barany's lab at Weill Cornell Medicine originally developed "zip code" sequences to be used in universal DNA arrays that he and other researchers, including Lubin, described in a grant proposal to the National Cancer Institute. Kempe, meantime, according to the suit, developed technology relating to surface and linker chemistry for arrays while she was a postdoctoral researcher in George Barany's lab at the University of Minnesota.

The lawsuit first accuses Stephen Fodor, who at the time was chief technology officer at Affymetrix and was one of the peer reviewers of the Barany team's grant proposal, of obstructing the researchers from getting the grant and of then trying to re-patent the idea at Affymetrix. In addition, it alleges, that Affymetrix went on to submit and obtain a $30 million grant from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology soon after reviewing the Barany team's proposal.

The suit further accuses the founders of Illumina of also submitting multiple patent applications that appropriated the plaintiffs' technology. The suit describes in detail efforts by Zirvi to track down instances in Illumina patent applications where it alleges Illumina changed words in order to obfuscate that the claimed invention originated from the Barany team. And it alleges that Illumina's SNP genotyping arrays as well as its AmpliSeq for Illumina reagents infringe on the zip code sequence technology as well as a number of patents originally assigned to Barany.

A number of the patents included in the suit were also the subject of a prior lawsuit jointly brought by Cornell and Thermo Fisher against Illumina. Illumina and Thermo Fisher settled the suit last year, but Cornell is seeking to rescind that settlement.

In total, the lawsuit includes 12 counts, alleging the defendants violated the Defend Trade Secrets Act, misappropriated trade secrets, committed racketeering, breached fiduciary duties, submitted false and misleading patent applications, and deprived the plaintiffs of economic advantages, and committed civil conspiracy.

The plaintiffs have requested a trial by jury and for the defendants to disclose all cases in which they are using the plaintiffs' trade secrets and to return all information related to those trade secrets. In addition, they have requested compensatory damages, punitive damages, and for the defendants to be liable to the plaintiffs.

Attempts by GenomeWeb to get comments from Illumina and Fodor before this article was published were unsuccessful. Thermo Fisher declined to comment.