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Making Money Off Your Competitors

Last year, Affymetrix (Nasdaq: AFFX  ) picked itself up from a rocky summer. Its stock was recently trading near 52-week highs until it got trounced yesterday, down more than 11% after it reported poor earnings for the first quarter of this year. But the downturn in earnings, resulting in a $4 million loss, was almost entirely due to $5.4 million in restructuring charges, such as severance and relocation packages for employees, canceling leases, and so forth. Such charges shouldn't continue much past the third quarter. Revenues were down a little from last year, so while things certainly aren't going as smoothly as it would like, the gene chipmaker is hoping to turn things around later in the year.

In the ever-evolving world of DNA micro arrays, Affymetrix has launched three new products in the last quarter. The SNP Array 5.0 builds on the Human Mapping 500K Set by almost doubling the amount of markers that can be studied, from 500,000 to 920,000, and decreases the processing time -- making scientists and their data-craving bosses happy. The Gene Chip Human Gene 1.0 ST Array is a basic model that should allow thrifty researchers who study human diseases to incorporate micro arrays into their studies. The third new product is the Gene Chip HT Array Plate System, which is essentially a robot that can process a whopping 96 samples at a time. For a company that makes money from consumables, providing a system to automate high throughput data gathering is certainly a good thing.

In addition to those three products, a new SNP Array 6.0 is slated to be available later this year. This leads management to expect $365 million to $385 million in revenue this year, which would be up from the $355 million it had in 2006 and will be in line with the $368 million in revenue in 2005, before the DNA micro array market became so competitive.

In the bittersweet department, competitor Illumina (Nasdaq: ILMN) reported earnings on Tuesday, announcing that revenues for the first quarter more than doubled. Why would Affymetrix be happy about a competitor's jump in sales? Because it won a patent infringement verdict against Illumina last month. Of course Illumina filled an appeal, so it will probably be years before Affymetrix sees any of the money from the verdict. But as long as Illumina continues to sell the patent-infringing products, Affymetrix can grin a little and hope to collect the jury-awarded 15% royalty if the verdict holds up on appeal.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, PhD., has been in data overload on more than one occasion after hybridizing DNA to a microarray, but he doesn't own any stocks mentioned in this article. You can find his biotech blog at The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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