Chinese Gene Sequencing Company BGI in Dispute, Illumina v. BGI Subsidiary in Patent Infringement
In the field of gene sequencing, the gene sequencer is an essential equipment in gene detection. After the biological sample is processed, it enters the sequencer, and then the raw data generated by the sequencer is analyzed by biological information to obtain the sequencing result. In this area, Illumina is a well-deserved hegemon. According to the data in 2016, 90% of the world’s second-generation genetic test data is generated by Illumina. Founded in 1998 and headquartered in San Diego, USA, Illumina develops, manufactures and markets the integrated systems for the analysis of genetic variation and biological functions. In 2006, Illumina entered the field of gene sequencing by acquiring the British company Solexa. For a long time, Illumina has often sued its against competitors for patent infringement by its technological advantages and its long-term accumulation in intellectual property. Only in 2017, Illumina filed patent lawsuits against five European companies, the Doctors Laboratory in the UK, TDL Genetics and Ariosa Diagnostics under Roche, and two Polish companies, Centrum Badan and Medgenetix.
In 2019, Illumina once again used his usual methods to attack his potential competitors, and this time, his goal was Chinese company BGI. In April 2019, Illumina filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Latvian MGI, a subsidiary of BGI, in the Düsseldorf District Court in Germany. Illumina argued that the sequencing products manufactured by MGI including BGISEQ-500, MGISEQ-2000 and related chemical reagents infringe on its European patent EP1530578B1. This patent protects Illumina’s unique simultaneous synthesis and sequencing technology. In May 2019, Illumina filed a patent infringement lawsuit against BGI Europe A/S, another subsidiary of BGI, in the Danish Maritime and Commercial High Court. Illumina argue that BGI’s sequencing products BGISEQ-500, MGISEQ-2000 and related chemical reagents infringe on its European patent EP3002289B1. And this patent primarily protects Illumina’s proprietary synthetic sequencing chemistry. In addition, in this lawsuit, Illumina also alleged that BGI’s product name MGISEQ-2000 infringed its registered trademark “MISEQ”.
Illumina and BGI were not so hostile at first. Before 2012, Illumina and BGI had a relatively pleasant cooperation. In 2010, BGI purchased 128 second-generation sequencing instruments from Illumina and became Illumina’s first major customer. Because of this cooperation, BGI became the world’s largest sequencing service provider, and Illumina’s products were more and more mature dependent on the use feedbacks from BGI. When BGI’s share in the market was getting higher and higher, Illumina felt the threat and began to take measures to curb the development of BGI. In 2012, Illumina began to increase the price of some reagents, proposed a sky-high warranty contact and reduced the price concessions for BGI. The sequencing instruments are all used together with the reagents. If there was no reagent, the sequencing instruments with high price purchased by BGI in the past would become worthless. Later, BGI completed the full acquisition of Complete Genomics for US$117.6 million. Since then, through technological transformation and independent research and development, MGI has gradually found a breakthrough point in the second-generation sequencer. BGI reduced its procurement of second-generation sequencers from Illumina to the purchase of products made by MGI.
According to MGI’s COO Jiang Hui, the core technology used by MGI sequencing instrument is DNBSEQ, which is based on single-chain rolling ring amplification technology, while other companies are based on on-chip bridge PCR technology. For PCR amplification, there is still a big difference between the sequencers made by MGI and Illumina. However, whether the sequencing instrument and supporting reagents made by MGI are infringing is not directly compared with the products of the competing products, but according to the scopes of the claims of the patents involved.
The two involved patents EP1530578B1 and EP3002289B1 were filed on August 22, 2003, and the general patents were valid for 20 years. Therefore, the two patents expired on August 22, 2023. These two patents and their families are mainly patented in some European and American countries, and the patent applications in the same family in China has not been authorized. Therefore, in China, Illumina and BGI should not file litigation disputes on these two patents.
In response to how BGI responded, Jiang Hui said that the specific situation of the patent dispute is still unclear. BGI will take active response and do not rule out counterclaims when necessary. However, as far as the current public data is concerned, BGI had 21 patents in Europe, and Illumina has 1370 patents in Europe. There is still a considerable gap between the two companies in patents. Therefore, it is more difficult for BGI to compete with Illumina through counterclaims. Judging from the layout of BGI’s patents, most of its patents are only applied in China, and it is not excluded that BGI regards China as its main battlefield.
Most of the upstream markets of the gene sequencing industry are still occupied by foreign giants such as Illumina. The sequencing instrument includes biochemistry, circuits, optics, machinery and other comprehensive sciences. It is quite difficult for companies that do not accumulate to enter. The patent dispute face by BGI is also a hard battle.