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22 January, 2021 - 13:29 By Tony Quested

Illumina wins UK round of global patent battle against BGI

Genomics giant Illumina, which has major research facilities in Cambridge, has won a UK patent infringement case against BGI Companies.

The High Court victories continue a flurry of similar victories for Illumina with more cases to come.

Courts in the US, Germany, Spain, Finland and Sweden have issued injunctions against BGI. Additional lawsuits are pending in Hong Kong S.A.R., France, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Turkey and Italy.

The High Court’s Patents Court issued a judgment in Illumina’s favour in a patent infringement suit filed against the BGI Companies, MGI Tech Co. Ltd; Latvia MGI SIA; MGI International Sales Co., Ltd; and BGI Complete Genomics Hong Kong Co., Ltd.

The Court found that four of the five asserted patents were valid and infringed by BGI. These patents cover different aspects of Illumina’s proprietary sequencing-by-synthesis chemistry, including its azidomethyl reversible terminator and labelled nucleotides.

The court had previously issued a preliminary injunction against BGI’s UK-based sequencing laboratory and restricted BGI’s ability to supply the infringing sequencing systems in the UK. 

Illumina intends to seek a permanent injunction fully prohibiting the supply or sale of BGI’s StandardMPS and CoolMPS systems in the UK until the relevant patents expire.

Charles Dadswell, SVP and General Counsel for Illumina, commented: “This adds to the growing list of courts around the world finding that BGI has misappropriated Illumina’s proprietary, groundbreaking technology. We will continue to vigorously protect our intellectual property from BGI’s willful infringement.”

Illumina is the global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, serving customers in the research, clinical and applied markets. Its products are used for applications in the life sciences, oncology, reproductive health, agriculture and other emerging segments.

The basis of Illumina’s soaring success was its $600 million acquisition of Cambridge’s Solexa in early 2007. 

What began as blue-sky research in the Chemistry Department of Cambridge University evolved into the revolutionary sequencing by synthesis technology that is the foundation of Illumina sequencing instruments.

Shankar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman were using fluorescently labeled nucleotides to observe the motion of a polymerase at the single molecule level as it synthesised DNA immobilised to a surface.

The contributions of Cambridge scientists to the first draft of the human genome, and the University’s rich history of DNA research by Alexander Todd, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Fred Sanger, inspired Drs. Balasubramanian and Klenerman to theorise how this approach might be used to sequence DNA.

A series of creative discussions in the lab and at a local pub during the summer of 1997 sparked ideas surrounding the use of clonal arrays and massively parallel sequencing of short reads using solid phase sequencing by reversible terminators (subsequently referred to as sequencing by synthesis technology, or SBS). This became the basis of a new DNA sequencing approach.

• Photograph – Courtesy of Illumina, Inc.

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