Nobody Said it Was Easy: Illumina sues Oxford Nanopore

A Tiny Strand of Biology which Launched a Thousand Lawsuits

News is filtering through that the big daddy of genomic sequencing, Illimina has sued Oxford Nanopore for patent infringement in a California court.

“But they use totally different technologies” I hear you say. True but did you know that Illumina licensed patents from University of Washington around nanopore sequencing? They are defending those patents. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that this lawsuit is about market competition. This is going to be a fierce battle.

Given its market dominance, (70% of worlds sequencing machines generating 90% of sequence data) Illumina has a lot to defend in a market that is only just starting to open up.

Oxford Nanopore may not have a massive installed based but is not exactly a minnow. They have successfully raised a lot of capital and recently managed to build a small but vocal and passionate base of users.

In the world of DNA sequencing the establishment is Illumina which started in the 90s as a bead based assay system (not sequencing), listed in 2000 and went on to acquire some pretty cool technology and only entered the sequencing race in the mid 2000's on the back of Solexa technology. They make great machines, sell them well and make a nice living.

Oxford Nanopore, is more of a scrappy fighter — it has lived as the underdog for a while but has learnt a thing or two about disruption. It launched beta product which was not as accurate as Illumina’s product, did rapid iterations of its chemistry and tools and users watched it get better in front of their eyes. This is a page from software launch book not an research product launch book.

It is a one sided battle — (I am not saying this on the basis of merits of the actual lawsuit )

  1. Patent infringement claim refers to technology used by Oxford Nanopore. Whatever the outcome, Illumina’s business is secure because it uses a different technology.
  2. Illumina has more cash.
  3. Illumina has a lot of experience in suing competitors and also winning (in the past they have sued Complete Genomics, Ariosa, Qiagen and others)
All this may want you to cheer for our own British underdog. But please don’t, it is only a lawsuit. Not cricket.

To Oxford Nanopore I will say one thing: Nobody said it was easy…