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Originally published March 15, 2013 at 5:21 PM | Page modified March 15, 2013 at 7:16 PM

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Local biotech inventor gets $95M verdict in patent suit

San Diego-based Illumina found to infringe on small Auburn company’s technology in one of the state’s largest ever patent judgments.

Seattle Times business reporter

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A small Auburn biotechnology company has won what may be the biggest patent-infringement verdict in state history, though the $95.8 million judgment likely will be appealed.

A federal jury in Tacoma this week found that San Diego-based Illumina, a maker of genetic-analysis equipment with $1.15 billion in sales last year, infringed Syntrix Biosystems’ patent on synthetic matrix and array technology.

Bradley Thoreson of Seattle’s Foster Pepper law firm, Syntrix’s local counsel, said the verdict could be the largest patent-infringement award in state history.

It would have ranked as the ninth-largest intellectual-property verdict nationwide last year, according to research by the National Law Journal.

Syntrix, which was founded and is owned by Dr. John Zebala of Sammamish, claimed that in January 2000 Zebala shared information about his invention — including his pending patent application — with Illumina under a nondisclosure agreement.

Less than three weeks later, Illumina filed a provisional patent application of its own that, according to the suit, included “figures and disclosures that closely resemble the trade secret Syntrix synthetic matrix and array technology described in the packet of information” provided by Zebala.

Zebala received his patent in October 2005, but three years later Illumina challenged whether it had been properly granted. A re-examination that ended in June 2010 confirmed nearly all of Zebala’s patent.

Syntrix argued that Illumina’s BeadArray technology and BeadChip products violate Zebala’s patent. BeadChips, silicon wafers about the size of a microscope slide, are covered with tiny silica beads; each bead, in turn, is covered with bits of DNA molecules that capture specific gene sequences.

Those sequences, in turn, can be tested and analyzed for purposes ranging from diagnosing and developing treatments for disease to breeding higher-yielding tomato plants.

Syntrix filed suit in November 2010, after it and Illumina failed to agree on a licensing deal.

After an 11-day trial that touched on complex questions of genetic science and patent law, the jury on Thursday took just two and a half hours to decide Illumina had infringed Syntrix’s patent and induced its customers to do so as well.

The $95.8 million judgment represents 6 percent of Illumina’s sales of the allegedly infringing products between 2005 and 2012.

In a statement Friday, Illumina said it “strongly disagreed” with the verdict and would ask U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle to set it aside; if he doesn’t, Illumina will appeal.

“In the meantime, we will continue to sell the products that are the subject of this suit and no damages will be payable to Syntrix until all appropriate appeals have been taken, which may take a number of years,” Illumina chief executive Jay Flatley said in the statement.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com

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