Rival manufacturers of automated DNA-sequencing machines have clashed in a California courtroom over the intellectual property rights to the fluorescent dye used in their equipment.
According to a pretrial ruling made last week by US federal judge Charles Breyer, the dye technology used by the California-based Applied Biosystems infringes a patent held by the British company Amersham Pharmacia Biotech. The case will come to full trial later this month.
The ruling is one of several in a tit-for-tat battle over various patents and claims on sequencing technology, which began when Amersham sued Applied Biosystems in 1997 over the launch of its BigDye product.
At stake are not only the market shares of Applied Biosystem's 3700 Prism DNA analyser and Amersham's MegaBACE system, but also a slice of the glory for the sequencing of the human genome.
In a written statement in response to the pretrial ruling, Applied Biosystems said that the company “continues to believe that we will prevail”. But Sir William Castell, chairman of Amersham, describes the ruling as “very significant”. He adds that the onus is now be on Applied Biosystems to invalidate the pretrial ruling.
Amersham is suing Applied Biosystems for undisclosed financial damages. The trial is expected to end in February, with a 90-day period for appeals.