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Codexis Says They’ve Been Ripped Off

I mentioned enzyme engineering briefly the other day, and that, of course, is where companies like Codexis make their living. They made a big splash with Merck a few years ago, and are continuing to work with a variety of partners to industrialize tricky enzymatic transformations.

Well, now they’re accusing a former employee of Pfizer lifting their IP during a collaboration and starting a competing company. According to their press release, Codexis has determined that products from EnzymeWorks, founded by Junhua (Alex) Tao, are exact residue-for-residue copies of Codexis products. They also claim that Tao lifted a proprietary plasmid from Codexis that they’d been keeping as a trade secret.

We’ll see how this plays out. The identities of the enzymes and the plasmid are easy to determine, and the odds of perfect copies being obtained by other than theft are. . .very small indeed.

27 comments on “Codexis Says They’ve Been Ripped Off”

  1. Rule (of 5) Breaker says:

    Now where would a Pfizer employee learn unethical behavior from?

  2. enzman says:

    Know all of these players quite well and not surprised, at all.

  3. labman98 says:

    It looks like EnzymeWorks is located in Jiangsu, China. Good luck suing a Chinese national in a Chinese court, Especially if you are a US corporation.

    1. SB says:

      The suit was filed in federal US court.

      1. anon says:

        Then good luck conducting discovery over a company based in the PRC.

      2. labman98 says:

        Their only presence in the U.S. is a sales office in San Diego. So good luck in even collect a default judgment. They may be able to prohibit imports into the U.S. but since the IP is protected as a trade secret and not by patent, I am unsure how that works.

  4. Anchor says:

    So we the rest in the US pharmaceutical company have never learned from our past mistakes! On many occasions (this website, public media etc.) we have seen a Chinese national working here in the USA in a major pharmaceutical company is also working (for himself) in China by setting his company there and do so by pilfering proprietary information from the USA. Chinese nationals have been stopped at the airport, web sites hacked are routine! If we do not learn from our mistakes nothing that we do is going to help us! And, in the US we are still bleeding jobs. We are hurting when Chinese economy is good and we hurt more when their economy is down. It just does not add up.

    1. anon says:

      I guess we know who Anchor is voting for in the forthcoming US presidential election.

      1. anon+1 says:

        That wall just got another foot taller……
        🙂

    2. the Donald says:

      if i’ve said it once, i’ve said it a million times:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDrfE9I8_hs

      1. kenmar says:

        brilliant

    3. Bagger Vance says:

      Maybe this is why the ACS is encouraging us to be “entrepreneurial” or somesuch? Certainly seems to be working for some folks from some specific countries of origin.

    4. John Galt says:

      Hear hear!
      I knew it would be a Chinese name before I read that far. Too bad we have this STEM shortage and have to resort to hiring from the most unethical country on the planet.

      1. LaJollaGuy says:

        Former and current colleague. If you spent less time making racist generalizations and more time getting a postdoc from Harvard, perhaps you wouldn’t need to find other people to fill your STEM gap.

    5. Ann O'Nymous says:

      The easy response to this is to make some slur about Chinese scientists having no ethical standards. I respectfully suggest that the problem with Western businesses engaging with Chinese ones is that they have *radically different* value systems when it comes to ethical standards.

      In the West, you are taught to put the interests of the business above your personal connections, and to not do so is instantly denounced as an ethical failure. If I’m buying petri dishes and my sister-in-law runs Acme Lab Supply, everyone in the West “just knows” the rules: I would have to recuse myself from the purchase decision, or she would have to prove to others in the org that no personal connection was used, etc etc.

      This is unthinkable to the Chinese. Their business system runs on a system of historical ties and mutual respect (guanxi). They would see it as perfectly natural –indeed, ethical– to contribute to the maintenance of the relationship by steering business her way. To cut off your personal peer and do an RFP or some other Western invention would be incredibly rude and unethical.

      As in all cases of cross-cultural interaction, assuming your world view is held by the other guy is an invitation to disaster.

    6. LaJollaGuy says:

      Former and current colleague here. Your diatribe fails to consider why the profit driven corporations will keep hiring “Chinese nationals” even if, according to you, they “pilfer proprietary information” and cause the US to “bleed jobs”.

      It’s because your mindset a) automatically assumes that foreign nationals are guilty of IP theft whenever a complaint is filed; b) ignore the vast majority of foreign nationals who don’t break any laws and generate enormous value for the US; c) ignore the cases where foreign nationals have been charged and tried only to be found innocent of any wrongdoing

      But most of all, pharmaceutical companies continue to hire foreign nationals because they provide more value to the companies than people like you who have nothing better to do but to write irrational tirades on comment threads.

  5. dearieme says:

    American companies were notorious thieves of intellectual property in the 19th century. Maybe it’s just a phase that developing economies go through.

  6. anchor says:

    @ anon -You started it…but am not sold on any of the candidates 2016! Trump-blowhard, Rubio-fast talker, Cruz-No cruisin, Bernie-dreamon, Hillary-enailed! So, can you guess where I stand?

    1. anon+1 says:

      Looks like you are moving to Canada but do so before the wall is built……..
      🙂

  7. Anchor says:

    @dearieme-I am curious if you can list the same? Realize that in 19th century there were many migrations (from Europe) to the US and newer immigrants continued to do in the US what they did prior to leaving their homeland. The patent laws were loosely defined then, unlike the present. However-I do agree with you that both the US and Soviet Union walked away with many war loots from then powerhouse of science-Germany at the conclusion of second WW..

    1. sort_of_knowledgable says:

      I don’t know about inventions, but Dickens complained bitterly because the US didn’t recognized foreign copyright at that time and published his works without giving him royalties.

      1. loupgarous says:

        Rudyard Kipling had the same complaint (that his copyrighted work was being freely printed in the US without his being paid royalties). See Kipling’s book American Notes for amiable and not-so-amiable vituperation on the subject.
        More recently, J.R.R. Tolkien had been ripped off so badly by pirate editions of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy that the back cover of the authorized Ballantine paperback edition of LOTR had a notice warning buyers “‘This paperback edition, and no other, has been published with my consent and co-operation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it, and no other.’ J.R,R. Tolkien.”

        Steam engine technology was another area where despite British patents AND an aggressive policy on protecting trade secrets related to steam power (i.e., no Britisher who’d ever worked for James Watt or other steam power inventors could emigrate from Great Britain), British steam technology “leaked” to the New World and proliferated in the United States.

    2. Design Monkey says:

      Sure thing. That Edison inventor guy was also the most stinking movie pirate in the whole history of world. Look up George Melies and movie A Trip to the Moon.

  8. SDGuy says:

    Former colleague. Not the first set of allegations against Tao, I think. I am also not too surprised.

    1. LaJollaGuy says:

      Tao’s colleague for almost 20 years now. Too bad anyone with a grudge against an entrepreneur can form “allegations”. Since you’re so interested in his current goings-on, I’d be more than happy to clue you in.

  9. Shazbot says:

    Out of curiosity, what was the result of the allegations?

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