After Stock Surges, Covid Antibody Seeker Faces Patent Threat

In the wake of an initial public offering last month that tripled its value to $4 billion, Berkeley Lights Inc. is facing a widening legal battle with a rival over patents covering technology being used to develop antibodies against Covid-19.

Vancouver-based AbCellera Biologics Inc. on Tuesday sued over four more patents on top of the eight it claimed were infringed by Berkeley’s Beacon Optofluidic System in a lawsuit filed in July in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. Emeryville, California-based Berkeley brought its own suit Monday in San Francisco, accusing AbCellera of lying about another patent it has suggested was infringed but hasn’t included in its suits.

Neither Berkeley nor AbCellera immediately responded to a request for comment on the recent suits.

Both companies make tools used for drug discovery and cell analysis that are being used to help develop Covid treatments. Closely held AbCellera says it is working with Eli Lilly & Co. to develop so-called “neutralizing” antibodies that can mimic a Covid immune response. That treatment moved into mid-stage clinical testing earlier this month. Berkeley is part of a Covid research consortium that also includes Emory University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

AbCellera’s latest claims involve four patents the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued in the past six weeks. All 12 patents at issue in the two cases name the University of British Columbia as the assignee and relate to ways to analyze cells to identify antibodies that can be used to prevent and treat diseases. AbCellera is the exclusive licensee, the complaints say.

AbCellera wants the court to award lost profits and a reasonable royalty for sales of Berkeley’s Beacon Optofluidic System, used for antibody discovery, cell line development and synthetic biology; and Berkeley’s Culture Station, used with the Beacon. It also wants the court to block further unauthorized use of its technology. Those products are from a division that had sales of $17 million in the first half of 2020, up from $15.8 million during the same period in 2019, Berkeley said Tuesday in its quarterly earnings report.

Berkeley said in the report it “believes that it is not probable that a liability had been incurred as of June 30.” In its California case, Berkeley asked the court to declare that its products don’t infringe one patent AbCellera had cited in correspondence but didn’t include in its lawsuits.

Berkeley’s IPO, on July 21, raised about $188 million, the company said Tuesday in a regulatory filing. Shares that sold for $22 at the outset reached a high of $71.86 on Aug. 4 and were trading at $65.41 at 3:28 p.m. in New York.

The latest case is AbCellera Biologics Inc. v. Berkeley Lights Inc., 20-cv-1116, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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