Researcher’s Suit Against Wake Forest and Former Company Over Keratin IP Hits Federal Court

In a complaint originally filed in Virginia’s state courts, chemical researcher Dr. Mark Van Dyke alleged that Wake Forest University, along with the company Van Dyke co-founded and several employees of that company, engaged in a conspiracy to take advantage of Dr. Van Dyke’s pioneering research in keratin, “the proteins that make up wool, hair, and fingernails.” The case was removed to federal court Wednesday.

The complaint detailed a purported business conspiracy by KeraNetics, a company founded by Dr. Van Dyke, Wake Forest, and several KeraNetics employees to take advantage of Dr. Van Dyke’s intellectual property. The complaint enumerated a body of patents assigned to Wake Forest, at that time Dr. Van Dyke’s employer, as a condition of employment. However, the plaintiff also explained the existence of the Keratin Know-How and Keratin Library, compilations of research materials, papers, patents, and general knowledge that Dr. Van Dyke claims are jointly owned by himself and “any university employer of Dr. Van Dyke at the time of its development and may travel with Dr. Van Dyke for future expansion…even after leaving the employ of a specific university.”

The complaint further alleged that, after years of collaboration between his company and his university employer, the defendants began filing patents that built upon the Keratin Know-How and Keratin Library but did not list or credit Dr. Van Dyke.. These actions, among others enumerated in the filing, gave rise of seven claims, including breaches of employment agreement, license, and fiduciary, as well as misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, unjust enrichment, and business conspiracy.

While the Notice of Removal does not address the substance of the lawsuit, it does reveal that Dr. Van Dyke is now a resident of Arizona and employed by the University of Arizona, and uses this as a basis for asserting diversity jurisdiction to remove the case to federal court.

Dr. Van Dyke is represented by The Creekmore Law Firm. KeraNetics, who filed the removal, is represented by Womble Bond Dickinson.