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Anatomy of a $115 Million Biotech Patent Infringement Verdict

In 2013, patent trial lawyers Derek Gilliland and Alan Albright obtained one of the largest patent infringement verdicts in the state of Washington. The $115 million victory for client Syntrix Biosystems ranked as the ninth largest intellectual property verdict nationwide, according to the National Law Journal. 

 At the time of trial, Mr. Gilliland was with Nix Patterson & Roach, LLP. His co-counsel Mr. Albright, who now serves as a federal district judge for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, was an IP partner for Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. Their combined technical knowledge and extensive experience trying complex intellectual property matters positioned them as valuable members on Syntrix’s trial team. During the 11-day trial, the trial team led the jury through a series of intricate questions relating to genetic science and patent law. 

The litigation between biotechnology company Syntrix and Illumina, a maker of genetic-analysis equipment, began following a failed attempt to partner in the biotechnology field. In the lawsuit, Syntrix founder and owner Dr. John A. Zebala accused Illumina of infringing on a patent covering DNA technology, misappropriating trade secrets, and breaching a contract the companies struck when they were considering the partnership. Syntrix filed its suit in November 2010 after the infringement was discovered and Illumina failed to agree on a licensing deal. The case went to trial on the patent infringement claim.

Court documents revealed that Syntrix and Illumina entered into a nondisclosure agreement in January 2000, under which Illumina agreed to refrain from using any of Syntrix’s trade secret information “for any purpose except to evaluate and engage in discussions concerning a potential business relationship” between the companies.

In the complaint, Syntrix claimed that while the agreement was in place, a Syntrix employee provided Illumina with a copy of its application for U.S. Patent Number 6,951,682, which had not yet been issued. (It was later issued in 2005.) In February 2000, Illumina filed a provisional patent application containing facts and figures that closely resembled those provided by Syntrix while the nondisclosure agreement had been in place.

The biotechnology research firm also asserted that Illumina had since made and sold items, including Illumina’s DNA and RNA analyzing BeadChip and Array Matrix products, that infringe the ‘682 patent.

In March 2013, a federal jury in Tacoma, Washington, took two hours to return a $95.8 million verdict for Syntrix. That judgment represented 6 percent of Illumina’s sales of the allegedly infringing products between 2005 and 2012. According to court documents, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle later increased that amount by adding $7.2 million in prejudgment interest and $12 million in supplemental damages and ongoing royalties of 8 percent of infringing sales.

In addition to Mr. Gilliland and Mr. Albright, Syntrix was represented at trial by Edward Chin of Nix Patterson & Roach LLP and Michael R. Samardzija of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP.

The case is Syntrix Biosystems Inc. v. Illumina Inc., case No. 3:10-cv-05870, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.