Codexis Files Lawsuit Against EnzymeWorks and its Founder

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The lawsuit alleges EnzymeWorks and its founder engaged in willful patent infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and breach of confidence, in addition to other claims.

Codexis, a developer of biocatalysts for the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries, filed a lawsuit against EnzymeWorks and its founder, Junhua “Alex” Tao, on February 19, 2016, alleging the willful patent infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of confidence, and other claims. The suit was filed as Case No. 3:16-cv-00826-BLF in the United States District Court, Northern District of California.

While working for Pfizer, Tao participated in a joint collaboration with Codexis. The collaboration focused on the development of propriety enzymes for use in manufacturing. Codexis alleges that Tao gained access to the company’s intellectual property while working on the collaboration. After leaving Pfizer, Tao founded EnzymeWorks in 2010, setting up facilities in China and San Diego. The lawsuit states, "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 ensymes, and the widespread and sweeping willful in-fringement of numerous Codexis patents." 

According to the lawsuit, at EnzymeWorks, Tao began to make exact duplicates of Codexis’ patented enzymes and used Codexis’ trade secret biomaterials. Tao then went on to sell the products to Codexis’ customers and to other customers at reduced prices, Codexis said in a press announcement.

In the lawsuit, Codexis identifies 10 separate U.S. patents that are willfully infringed by EnzymeWorks. Codexis alleges that several of EnzymeWorks’ products are “exact molecular copies of Codexis’ patent-protected enzymes.” Codexis says, that because these enzymes are typically hundreds of amino acids long, it is statistically impossible that EnzymeWorks coincidentally arrived at these products on its own.


The lawsuit also alleges the misappropriation of trade secrets related to Codexis’ high-performing plasmid, which is a proprietary technology that Codexis uses to develop and produce its engineered enzymes. The selection, arrangement, and sequence of the DNA in this plasmid had been a Codexis trade secret.

Codexis is seeking an injunction to stop EnzymeWorks’ and Tao’s infringement, enhanced monetary damages, and a full recovery of its attorneys’ fees in its lawsuit against Tao and EnzymeWorks. According to various news sources, Tao denied accusations and declined to comment further before consulting with legal counsel. 

Source: Codexis