23andMe Sues Ancestry for Patent Infringement

GenomeWeb, an independent online news organization based in New York, has been around since 1997. It’s mission is to cover the scientific and economic ecosystem spurred by the advent of high-throughput genome sequencing. GenomeWeb reported that 23andMe has sued Ancestry.com for patent infringement and misleading marketing.

GenomeWeb points out that 23andMe (based in Mountain View, California) and Ancestry (based in Lehi, Utah) are competitors. Both sell direct-to-consumer DNA test kits. Ancestry says it has about 10 million customers for its Ancestry DNA testing service. 23andMe says it has tested 5 million customers.

The lawsuit was filed by 23andMe in the District Court for the Northern District of California on May 11, 2018. In short, 23andMe alleges that Ancestry has engaged in infringement of 23andMe’s patented method of identifying relatives in a database, and also alleges Ancestry has engaged in false advertising. 23AndMe claims that Ancestry has been infringing its 554 patent claims since at least 2013 and cites a white paper describing a similar method of identifying relatives within the AncestryDNA service.

In addition, 23andMe accused Ancestry of making misleading representations about its service in violation of the Lanham Act and the California Business and Professions Code. The Lanham Act is a federal law that prohibits trademark infringement and false advertising.

Specifically, 23andMe points out that, in an online advertisement, Ancestry stated that AncestryDNA tested five times more regions than other DNA tests, but only explained in the fine print that it tested two times more regions than 23andMe. According to 23andMe, in Ancestry’s other ads, no such disclaimer is provided. 23andMe has concerns that Ancestry’s advertising claims are misleading – and that the public believes them to be true.

There is an additional conflict between these two companies. Ancestry has trademarked the word “ancestry” as a logotype. Ancestry alleges that 23andMe’s use of the term “ancestry” can cause customer confusion, and that 23andMe’s use of the word “ancestry” is trademark infringement.

GenomeWeb reports that 23andMe denies it has used the word “ancestry” in a way that infringes the trademark. 23andMe also states that Ancestry has no legitimate claim to the term.

When a person takes a direct-to-consumer DNA test, from whatever company they chose to buy it from, the person is likely thinking about what the results will be. It is strange to realize that, behind the scenes, two of the biggest companies that sell direct-to-consumer DNA testing are fighting with each other in court.

Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:

* Tips for Discovering Biological Family with AncestryDNA

* 23andMe has FDA Approval for Genetic Test for Breast Cancer

* DNA Testing and Informed Consent

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