Human Longevity (HLI), a San Diego-based company launched by Craig Venter and Peter Diamandis in 2013, is suing the J. Craig Venter Institute under the allegation that Craig Venter misappropriated and passed on trade secrets when he left HLI in May. The suit also targets several other defendants whose identity has not yet been announced.

The suit was filed on Friday last week with the US District Court for the Southern District of California. In it, HLI allege that when Dr Venter left HLI earlier in the year, he took with him a company laptop that held trade secrets and protected information that he was then able to pass on to the JCVI, where he acts as President, CEO, and Chairman. The suit continues by stating that this breach is particularly concerning as HLI believes the Institute is currently working to produce a product that will put the two organisations in direct competition.

Between 2014 and early 2017, Dr Venter acted as HLI’s CEO before becoming the Executive Chairman, a role that he filled until November 2017. After that, he remained as the company’s Interim CEO until he left the company in May this year. HLI have now claimed that during his employment as Executive Chairman, Dr Venter had signed a ‘proprietary information and inventions’ agreement that he has now breached. The filing goes on to detail how Dr Venter used a company laptop while working there that was backed up to the cloud, and that he consistently used his JCVI email address while conducting business on behalf of HLI.

This announcement also uncovers further information about Dr Venter’s departure from the company. In May, Dr Venter announced that he was leaving HLI via Twitter; the company didn’t give an official statement.

Now, HLI claim that Dr Venter was withholding critical information from the company board and investors that would have resulted in the termination of another employee. This would have been after of Dr Venter’s companies was struck with a gender discrimination lawsuit. The suit also alleges that, as he left the company, Dr Venter was able to convince a HLI-paid consul to draft an employment contract that was favourable to himself and appointed his succeeding Interim President without approval from the HLI board.

Following these actions, as well as other minor grievances, the HLI board voted to terminate Dr Venter.

HLI are alleging that following this vote, Venter immediately started to use his HLI laptop to communicate to the public and solicit HLI investors and employees. The company terminated his access to the HLI server and emails the day after his termination, but they claim that even after this happened, he continued to use the information and trade secrets saved onto the laptop.

The suit continues, outlining multiple specific instances where Dr Venter took action that could constitute a breach of privacy, including meeting and soliciting HLI employees, soliciting potential investors, and attempting to obtain further internal data from HLI. For these grievances, HLI are seeking a jury trial and general, special, and punitive damages. The exact value of these damages has not been disclosed at this time. They are also requesting an injunction got JCVI that would prevent them from using or disclosing any information obtained from HLI and would necessitate the auditing of al JCVI laptops and electronic devices.

JCVI have denied the claims, citing them as baseless and factually inaccurate in several places.

“HLI is one of many companies to have been spun out of the not-for-profit research efforts of the J. Craig Venter Institute and its founder, J. Craig Venter, a renowned genomics pioneer who remains a shareholder in HLI,” a spokesperson from JCVI said. “We intend to vigorously defend against these allegations as the legal process advances.”

More on these topics