In the Eastern District of California on Wednesday, Antech Diagnostics Inc. and Dr. Christian Leutenegger filed a complaint against Idexx Laboratories Inc., seeking declaratory relief related to threatened litigation by Idexx over trade secrets and Leutenegger’s contract with Idexx, his former employer.
Leutenegger, a veterinary scientist who develops “quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR or real-time PCR) tests” that primarily can detect and measure infections in animals, joined Idexx in 2006 after postdoctoral work at the University of California-Davis. According to the complaint, he “helped pioneer the use of qPCR tests for diagnostic purposes in veterinary medicine.”
In March 2019, Leutenegger left Idexx and joined Antech, where he also worked on developing diagnostic tests for infections, diseases and pathogens in animals. One such test was a new real-time PCR test used for detecting different strains of ringworm in animals.
According to the plaintiffs, soon after leaving Idexx, Idexx began to send letters to Leutenegger and Antech, threatening litigation over claims “that Dr. Leutenegger had breached his prior employment contract with IDEXX and misappropriated ‘trade secrets.’ ” Idexx cited eight trade secrets — related to the findings used to pursue the development of products developed by Leutenegger at Idexxit, pricing, protocol strategies, and methodologies, among other things — believed Leutenegger had misappropriated, the complaint said.
While at UC Davis, Leutenegger began conceptualizing a real-time PCR test for ringworm, but it was not until about 2010 when he was working at Idexx that the necessary genetic sequence data for ringworm publicly became available. Idexx published Leutenegger’s findings, and in 2014, the company announced the Ringworm RealPCR Panel, Leutenegger’s finished real-time PCR ringworm test, the complaint said.
Leutenegger and Antech both sent response letters where they assured Idexx that no trade secrets nor proprietary information owned by Idexx has been shared nor will be shared with Antech, and, in fact, they were taking “extra precautions,” according to Leutenegger’s letter. Leutenegger also provided an affidavit, signed July 31, 2020, confirming his obligations under the nondisclosure agreement he signed with Idexx in 2006.
Still, Idexx continued threatening litigation, sending another letter alleging that the Antech FastPanel Ringworm PCR, announced Sept. 17, 2020, “create(d), at a minimum, the suspicion that Antech has misappropriated and used IDEXX’s confidential/proprietary information and/or trade secrets, and is now using that information at Antech,” the letter said. Idexx argued that this was the case because of Leutenegger’s “critical role” in the development of Idexx’s early PCR testing panels.
Two of the trade secrets in particular that Idexx alleged were misappropriated or will be misappropriated by Leutenegger and Antech, “reverse transcription, amplification and detection” and “the IDEXX methodology of operating RealPCRs within a single set of conditions for extraction,” are “public and standardized … core components of real-time PCR tests,” the plaintiffs argued. Also argued by the plaintiffs was that Leutenegger’s development of Antech’s ringworm PCR product had no reliance on confidential information he gained at Idexx, citing the commonality of PCR test models and products in the industry, publicity of information from which to draw, and the fact that technologies and methodologies have been updated and improved since his time at Idexx.
The plaintiffs are seeking declaration that they have not misappropriated nor threatened to misappropriate trade secrets owned by Idexx, under both the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act and the Defend Trade Secrets Act, and that Leutenegger has not breached his Idexx nondisclosure agreement.
The plaintiffs are represented by Durie Tangri.