23andMe Files Lawsuit Against Ancestry.com

23andMe Files Lawsuit Against Ancestry.com

23andMe has filed a lawsuit against major competitor Ancestry.com, claiming patent infringement and false advertising. Here's what you need to know.

23andMe sues Ancestry.com lawsuit

On Friday, May 11, 2018, 23andMe hit genealogy rival Ancestry.com with a false advertising and patent infringement lawsuit in California federal court. 23andMe is seeking to to invalidate Ancestry’s “Ancestry” trademark , claiming that the latter company sells a DNA-based ancestry test that infringes on 23andMe’s patent. Here’s what you need to know, and what this could potentially mean for genealogists.

Why 23andMe is suing

The lawsuit filed by 23andMe accuses Utah-based Ancestry.com of infringing its patent since 2013. That year, Ancestry began selling its AncestryDNA kits, which identify relatives who share parts of customers’ DNA. The suit claims that the 23andMe patent titled “Finding Relatives in a Database” describes a specific process for determining a relative relationship between two individuals. This process involves comparing recombinable DNA sequence information of two individuals stored in a database, rather than comparing the whole genome.

According to 23andMe, the patent explains that only relatives will share long stretches of genome regions — dubbed “identical by descent” regions—where their recombinable DNA is completely or nearly identical. The suit states that the patent’s technology focuses on identifying those regions.

In addition to patent infringement, the lawsuit also claims that Ancestry.com has been misleading customers by running a “perpetual sale” on its DNA test, and by falsely claiming in ads that it tests five times more regions than its rivals.

Ancestry.com currently offers 350 geographic regions in its test; 23andMe bumped its test up to 150 regions in February.

“Defendants’ repeated pattern of false and misleading advertising has caused, and will continue to cause irreparable injury to 23andMe’s reputation, goodwill and business, if not enjoined,” the suit says.

23andMe seeking damages and disgorgement

23andMe has asked for a permanent injunction prohibiting Ancestry.com from infringing upon its patent. 23andMe also claims that Ancestry.com should have to pay three times the amount of damages for the infringement.

The official suit seeks damages and disgorgement of the company’s profits, plus attorneys’ fees and interest. It also asks that the court declare that 23andMe, which names its ethnicity reporting “Ancestry Composition,” doesn’t infringe on Ancestry.com’s “Ancestry” trademark. 23andMe is asking the court to find that the “Ancestry” trademark is invalid, arguing that the term “ancestry” is generic. Finally, 23andMe asks the court to bar Ancestry.com from continuing to use allegedly misleading ads.

What this means for genealogists

This isn’t the first genetic genealogy industry lawsuit. In 2017, AncestryDNA settled with DNADiagnostics over the latter company’s “AncestryByDNA” test. Ancestry also paid a company called OraSure Technologies $12.5 million to settle a patent infringement lawsuit over its saliva collection technology.

But you’ll want to keep an eye on this suit between two industry leaders as it winds its way through the legal process. In genealogy, the common use of terms such as “family tree” and “ancestry” can lead to name confusion (we’d love to have a nickel each time we send a genealogy conference attendee to the Family Tree Maker or Family Tree DNA booth). Perhaps we’ll see changes in how DNA test kits are marketed. We also wonder whether the distraction could slow innovation at AncestryDNA. This suit is definitely an indication how intensely competitive the genetic genealogy industry has become.

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  1. Good to know I’m not the only one who has trouble keeping all the “Family Tree”, “Genealogy”, and “Roots___” products/services straight! LOL

    I certainly agree that plenty of “false advertising” has been going on. Whenever AncestryDNA commercials come on, they are entirely about the ethnicity estimates. I don’t think I have ever seen one that even touched on connecting with distant DNA relatives. As a result, you have testers becoming upset and defensive when matches reach out to research their shared genealogy. That’s what led to Ancestry introducing the “opt out” for matching. Instead of being honest and upfront they cut genealogists off at the knees and kept us from seeing testers who could hold a key piece of the puzzle.

  2. It’s sad that this type if lawsuit will probably hurt us, the genealogists, the most. There’s only so many ways to test or make claims about DNA testing. This is science. This type of competition will hurts us and what we can find and accomplish. Ancestry.com has been around for ages. In my opinion, this makes 23andme look bad.

  3. I have been with Ancestry.com since they started and I trust them fully and completely. 23 and me is newer to the game and needs to leave Ancestry alone. I am so tired of companies I trust and know are good being brought into fights like this. I will support Ancestry all the way. Who will 23 and me go after next MyHeritage? They better not I will support MyHeritage as well. Family Tree Maker is the best service and I am glad they joined with Ancestry and MyHeritage to give us more places to do research. 23 and me just leave things alone and work together with the other Genealogy sites. Stop fighting over petty things.

  4. I am both an Ancestry.com & 23andme customer. 23andme offered DNA testing years before Ancestry.com did. 23andme recognized others’ supremacy in terms of family tree building and abandoned that element of their service. Their relative matching methodology probably did predate Ancestry’s foray into DNA testing. I have no loyalty one way or the other, but these two commercial concerns are driven by their bottom lines and our IP laws are available to them to protect their commercial interests. Having both of them competing in this space is good for consumers. If Ancestry was left alone in this market, they would not hesitate to up their prices.