NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – In a lawsuit filed with the Superior Court of the State of California late Wednesday, Agilent Technologies has claimed that Twist Bioscience, its Founder and CEO Emily LeProust, and 20 other unnamed defendants, have stolen a certain genomics technology from Agilent.
"Emily LeProust is a scientist who, in a premeditated plan, stole industry-leading genomics technology from her longtime employer, Agilent Technologies, to start her own competitive company, Twist Bioscience," the complaint reads.
As an Agilent employee, LeProust was tasked with developing and improving the company's DNA oligonucleotide synthesis technologies, but instead of putting the company first, she "secretly laid the groundwork for a theft of Agilent technology" more than a year before leaving the company, according to the court documents.
Agilent further alleges that LeProust used her remaining 14 months at the company to develop and perfect the technology Twist now sells, and even pitched her ideas to venture capitalists, all while still working for Agilent. And even after she left, the complaint said, she continued to harm Agilent by targeting and poaching employees with the skills and knowledge needed to synthesize oligo libraries "of a length, complexity, and fidelity previously unmatched by any company other than Agilent."
In doing so, the complaint alleges, LeProust violated her contractual duties, which required her to disclose to Agilent any technological innovations related to its research, to protect its confidential information, and to refrain from trying to recruit her former coworkers for a period of two years after leaving the company.
Even before LeProust left Agilent in April 2013 — under circumstances the company describes as less than honest, wherein she skipped meetings, called in sick, then refused to sign an exit memo that would have reiterated her obligations to keep Agilent's trade secrets confidential, and wiped the data from her Agilent smartphone before returning it — the company alleges she tried to sell technology now marketed by Twist to a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup called Gen9 in February 2013. But according to the complaint, Gen9 recognized the technology as Agilent's and ended the meeting with LeProust.
Gen9 received a $21 million investment from Agilent two months later, and is now a direct competitor of Twist.
"Twist now threatens Agilent's hard-earned technological and competitive advantage, not because of any profound innovation by Twist, but because it planned and executed a wide-ranging misappropriation of Agilent trade secrets, confidential information, proprietary processes, and key personnel," according to the filing, which added that LeProust unfairly built her company on the back of the years of work and millions of dollars Agilent put into this technology, and gained an "ill-gotten, illegitimate, and unearned head start in the market."
To compensate Agilent for the three causes of action it has filed — breach of contract and breach of duty of loyalty against LeProust, and misappropriation of trade secrets against LeProust, Twist, and the 20 unnamed co-defendants — the company is asking for injunctive relief to prevent the defendants from continuing to use the technology they allegedly stole, repayment of all the compensation LeProust received while an Agilent employee, and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Agilent also wants the court to set up a trust that would appropriate any profits Twist has made from selling its technology.
Twist has responded to the news of Agilent's complaint, saying it hasn't yet been served with the full complaint, but rather received it from news outlets that were given the document. The company said it will review the filing and will "defend itself vigorously against what it believes to be meritless claims, which Twist Bioscience denies."
Further, Twist added, it respects the protections of intellectual property laws and expects other companies to likewise respect its own IP. "Twist Bioscience can only conclude that Agilent’s suit is an attempt by a much larger competitor to stifle innovation and competition," the company said in its statement. "Twist Bioscience believes that the marketplace is the best place to determine winners and losers."