gavel patent CRISPR

Joe Gratz

Long-read sequencing company PacBio have filed yet another lawsuit against UK-based competitors Oxford Nanopore, claiming that the company has infringed another of their patents covering single molecule sequencing.

The patent, which was only issued in January, covers measuring a template nucleic acid as it passes through a nanopore, as well as the subsequent translation of the signal to identify each base. This lawsuit once again targets the MinION sequencer, alongside the more recent PromethION, and demands cessation of sales, a permanent ban on future infringements, and an award of damages and costs from Oxford.

In response to the suit, Oxford came out swinging. In a statement CEO Gordon Sanghera said, “It’s another pore excuse for a lawsuit.” (Pun clearly intended).

“We believe this is another frivolous lawsuit brought by a competitor nervous about our superior technology. I would like to assure all our customers that this and other actions will not disrupt our commercial operations.”

This is just the latest in a string of legal actions that have been brought against Oxford Nanopore over the past year. In February 2016 the company found themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit from short-read specialists Illumina, whose suit alleged that Illumina held an exclusive license to the bacterial pore at the heart of Oxford’s MinION sequencer. At the time, Sanghera said, “It is gratifying to have the commercial relevance of Oxford Nanopore products so publicly acknowledged by the market monopolist.” And in August 2016 the suit was quietly closed with the integration of a brand new nanopore into the MinION device.

PacBio launched its first legal challenge against the company in the latter end of 2016, alleging that the ‘hairpin adaptor’ that allows MinION to process two strands of DNA at a time infringes on an existing PacBio patent. As the patent is only applicable in the US the action would effectively prevent Oxford from marketing their products to the US market.

“As a pioneer in the field of single-molecule, long-read sequencing, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development across a broad array of disciplines, including nanofabrication, physics, organic chemistry, photonics, optics, molecular biology, engineering, signal processing, high-performance computing, and bioinformatics,” said Michael Hunkapiller, PacBio CEO, when the lawsuit was announced in November. “We stand firm in our resolve to protect that investment and our leadership position in the field we have created.”

However, during the launch of Oxford’s latest GridION X5 product, CTO Clive Brown announced that its 2D library prep kits will be discontinued as of May 5, a development that could negate this particular dispute with PacBio.

Oxford Nanopore are best known for the tiny MinION sequencer, a device the size of a USB flash drive that has already made a significant name for itself as the sequencer of choice for field scientists. In the last year alone, MinION became the first sequencer to decode DNA in space, while back on earth scientists studying everything from wildlife crime to Zika virus outbreaks have benefited from the highly portable device.  In May 2016 the company announced the development of an even more portable sequencer, a smartphone-powered device whimsically called ‘SmidgION’.

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