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The contested civil complaint might shed light on his departure from the genomics heavyweight.
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Human Longevity, the genomics company that acclaimed scientist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter founded, has filed a civil complaint against his namesake nonprofit institute, alleging theft of trade secrets.
Venter, Ph.D., left Human Longevity earlier this year, in a move that he portrayed as a sort of retirement. But the lawsuit claims that Venter was fired for pursuing rushed funding deals that seemed to benefit him and other misdeeds.
An attorney for Venter’s organization has rejected the allegations, calling them “baseless, without merit” and rife with inaccuracies, according to STAT News. The lawyer said the J. Craig Venter Institute plans to “vigorously defend” itself against the claims.
The civil complaint, filed on Friday in San Diego, California, sets up a fierce battle between two organizations with considerable brainpower and even loftier aspirations. Human Longevity aims to use bleeding-edge tech to diagnose diseases early on and expand the human lifespan, a mission that has earned buy-in from the world’s rich and powerful. The J. Craig Venter Institute is a nonprofit genomics and bioinformatics research institute that hopes to spur “advanced in human health and the environment,” according to its website.
Despite signing an agreement protecting Human Longevity’s proprietary information, Venter used his company-issued laptop and cloud-based crash-recovery program to steal funding information and then attempted to entice investors to partner with the J. Craig Venter Institute, the complaint alleges.
Human Longevity claims that Venter is using its trade secrets to form a competing business, attract investors, execute financial deals and poach the company’s employees and customers.
“After his … termination, Venter arranged a meeting with as many as nine [Human Longevity] employees,” the company’s attorneys wrote. “On information and belief, Venter intended to solicit these employees to [the J. Craig Venter Institute] to compete directly with [Human Longevity].”
The complaint claims that Venter’s relationship with Human Longevity had grown rocky by July 2017, when he was pushed down from executive chairman to chairman with no written employment agreement.
This past spring, Venter allegedly withheld information from the board about another executive’s actions and later drafted a “Venter-favorable employment contract” and “unilaterally appointed” a new interim president without discussing the matter with Human Longevity’s board.
In five causes of action, Human Longevity is seeking damages and injunctive relief. It has yet to publish a dollar amount.
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