By Julia Karow
This article was originally published Nov. 8.
Affymetrix has sued Pacific Biosciences and several yet to be identified former Affy employees that now work for PacBio for unlawfully recruiting its workers and for obtaining proprietary information from the company.
According to the complaint, filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court of the State of California last week, at least fifteen Affymetrix employees that held "key functions" in sales, field applications, and technical services left the company to work for PacBio, starting in August 2009.
Affy said that its employees have to sign a confidentiality and invention agreement, which states that during and after their employment they cannot disclose certain information, including information about Affy's personnel and customer relationships. Also, for one year after leaving Affy, they must not try to recruit other Affymetrix employees to work elsewhere.
In the suit, Affymetrix claims that PacBio and PacBio employees that used to work for Affy conspired to induce Affy workers to breach the confidentiality and invention agreement, to disclose confidential information about the company, and to work for PacBio.
Affy said that the former employees accused in the suit have "violated their agreements not to solicit," have "induced the breach of fiduciary duties by their colleagues," and "conspired with Pacific Biosciences to cause severe and irreparable harm to Affymetrix."
In a letter to PacBio dated Sept. 23, Affy demanded that PacBio confirm in writing within five days that it "will cease and desist all solicitation of Affymetrix employees, including … seeking the assistance of Affymetrix employees or former employees in soliciting individuals for employment by Pacific Biosciences" and "cease and desist interfering in any way with Affymetrix's relationships with its employees."
Affy also requested in the letter that PacBio return any confidential and proprietary information it might have obtained from Affymetrix employees, and that it will not use or disclose such information.
According to the complaint, PacBio "has failed and refused to respond to Affymetrix's demands" and "continues its unlawful conduct."
Affy asked the court for damages, including "exemplary and punitive damages … in a sum sufficient to punish and make an example" of the defendants; for an injunction preventing the defendants from using confidential information; and for attorneys' fees.
Affy said it does not know the names of the former employees it is suing, and is therefore suing them anonymously. It plans to add their names to the complaint at a later stage, "when the relevant facts become known."
PacBio has hired a number of former Affymetrix employees over the years. Among its senior management, they include Martha Trela, vice president of marketing, who joined the company in 2006 after serving as Affy's vice president of commercial marketing; and Pat Brooks, head of sales, who used to be vice president of sales for Affy.
Pacific Biosciences and Affymetrix declined to comment further on the suit for this article.
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