A federal jury in San Francisco awarded Illumina $26.7 million in a lawsuit accusing Ariosa Diagnostics of infringing on patents, a decision that could bolster Illumina’s strong position in the prenatal testing market.
Illumina’s legal action targeted Ariosa’s Harmony test, designed to screen for fetal chromosomal conditions like Down syndrome before a baby is born. The previous and current version of Harmony infringed on Illumina’s patented technology, the jury found.
Previously, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office upheld the patents held by San Diego-based Illumina, striking down multiple challenges from Ariosa.
“This verdict again validates these patents, the hard work and ingenuity of the inventors, and their significant contribution to the field of NIPT (non-invasive prenatal test),” Charles Dadswell, senior vice president and general counsel for Illumina, said in a statement. The company did not grant an interview request.
Illumina employs almost 7,000 people, about 3,000 of them in San Diego. The biotech’s technology unlocks the genome, serving research and clinical markets.
A Lot Was at Stake
For Illumina more was at stake than damages. For one, the company wants to strengthen its already strong grip on the noninvasive prenatal testing market, forecast to reach $5.5 billion by 2025, according to a December 2016 report by Grand View Research.
“When a competitor like Ariosa Diagnostics…has a competing product, it’s imperative that the company enforce its patent rights to keep the competition off the market,” said Aubrey Haddach, co-chair of the ABA Biotechnology Law Committee and part of the intellectual property department at Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP in San Diego.
She noted 99.7 percent of all noninvasive prenatal testing samples published in studies from 2011 to 2017 were run on Illumina’s next-generation sequencing platform.
Another reason this was important for Illumina: A patent in the case covers the company’s sequencing platform, used for many of its products, not just prenatal testing, according to Haddach.
Patent Office Weighed In
She said the jury’s decision didn’t come as much of a surprise, particularly given that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had weighed in.
“It was a very clear-cut case,” Haddach said. She added while Ariosa attempted a fast follow, Illumina holds broad patents in the space.
Illumina had sought $100 million in damages. In April 2014 it sued Ariosa, a San Jose company that was acquired by pharmaceuticals giant Roche later that year. Another lawsuit followed in 2015.
The jury returned its verdict in late January.
Along with Illumina receiving $26.7 million, the jury rejected counterclaims by Ariosa that Illumina had breached a supply agreement between the companies by bringing the lawsuit.
Illumina, according to the company, plans to seek injunctive relief to prevent Ariosa’s continuing sale of its Harmony test.