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Supreme Court case involving Thermo Fisher could affect big manufacturers

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Tuesday in a patent lawsuit against Life Technologies — now part of Waltham-based Thermo Fisher — that could have costly implications for device makers that use global supply chains.

Wisconsin-based Promega Corp. claims in the suit that a genetic testing kit made by Life Technologies infringes some of its patents. Life Technologies, which Thermo Fisher (NYSE: TMO) purchased in 2013, made one key component of the kit in the U.S. — an enzyme called Taq polymerase — then sent it to a U.K. facility to be completed.

Promega won a $52 million jury verdict in 2012, but a judge set the award aside. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit then upheld some of the claims in 2014, setting up the current appeal.

At issue in the case is whether companies that make just one component or a few components of a patented invention in the U.S. before completing assembly overseas can still be held liable in a U.S. court, and potentially forced to pay damages for all worldwide sales of the product.


“I think it would have a broad impact within the life science community,” said Melissa Hunter-Ensor, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig who has been following the case. “It’s really difficult to say who wouldn’t be impacted.”

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