Codexis files lawsuit against EnzymeWorks and its founder over alleged patent infringement

US developer of biocatalysts also alleges that Junhua (Alex) Tao misappropriated trade secrets

Codexis, a US developer of biocatalysts for the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries, has filed suit against EnzymeWorks and its founder, Junhua (Alex) Tao, for stealing trade secrets and infringing its patents.

In its complaint, filed on 19 February in a California District Court, Codexis alleges that Tao gained access to the firm's intellectual property when he took part in a Codexis collaboration while he was an employee at one of the world's leading pharmaceutical firms. At that time, Codexis and Tao’s employer were working on the joint development of proprietary enzymes for use in the manufacturing of some of the partner’s pharmaceutical products. After leaving that company, Tao ultimately founded EnzymeWorks, setting up facilities in Zhangjiagang, China and San Diego, CA, US.

At EnzymeWorks, according to the lawsuit, Tao began to make exact duplicates of Codexis’ patented enzymes and started using the US firm's trade secret biomaterials. He then went on to sell these 'copycat' products to Codexis’ customers and to others at reduced prices.

Codexis undertakes litigation rarely and reluctantly, but this form of blatant disrespect for intellectual property harms not only our business and ultimately our shareholders, but also our customers

'EnzymeWorks and Tao have made and sold identical copies of Codexis’ proprietary enzymes and plasmids as a way to shortcut their way into an important and growing market,' said John Nicols, CEO and President of Codexis.

'Codexis undertakes litigation rarely and reluctantly, but this form of blatant disrespect for intellectual property harms not only our business and ultimately our shareholders, but also our customers, who, like Codexis, rely on intellectual property rights to protect their businesses and products.'

The lawsuit alleges that Tao 'betrayed the trust Codexis placed in him and built EnzymeWorks upon an infected foundation of trade secret theft and other business torts, the brazen copying of Codexis’s engineered enzymes, and the widespread and sweeping wilful infringement of numerous Codexis patents'.

In the lawsuit, Codexis identifies 10 separate US patents that were deliberately infringed by EnzymeWorks. The firm says that a number of EnzymeWorks’ products are '100% exact molecular copies' of its patent-protected enzymes. Because these enzymes are typically hundreds of amino acids long, says Codexis, 'it is statistically impossible' for EnzymeWorks to 'coincidentally' develop these products on its own.

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