Virtuoso Legal Successfully Defend Leading Scientists in Breach of Confidence Case Brought by Invista Textiles (UK) Limited
Virtuoso Legal successfully defend VideraBio Limited and Drs Botes, Chokkathukalam and Chen in High Court breach of confidence claims brought by industry giant, Invista Textiles (UK) Limited.
The Claimants in this case, “Invista” is part of the Koch Industries group based in Wichita, Kansas, USA,. Invista is one of the world’s largest producers of nylon and the chemical intermediates used to produce nylon. Invista were represented by “trial lawyers” Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, including their Managing Partner, Sue Prevezer QC.
The Virtuoso Legal litigation team, led by directors Elizabeth Ward (a former biotech scientist and founder of the IP specialist firm) and Philip Partington (head of IP Protect and the London Office of Virtuoso Legal), acted for the Defendants.
The Defendants are three former employees of Invista (Drs Botes, Chokkathukalam and Chen) and a biotech start-up “VideraBio”. The former Invista employees are all leading biotechnology scientists. Until her departure, Dr Botes was the R&D director of Invista’s “Sustainability Group” where she led research into production of bio-based nylon intermediates via fermentation as an alternative to current petrochemical-based production.
In February 2017, Invista issued a High Court claim and interim injunction against the trio of Defendants and VideraBio. The injunction alleged breach of confidence and various contractual breaches, as we as inducement of a 3rd party to breach its contract with Invista.
In short, Invista’s claims related to the scientists’ departure from Invista’s employment and setting up of a biotech company, VideraBio.
Following the heavily contested and expensive proceedings (it is estimated that Invista has incurred well in excess of £1 million in legal costs) and after a lengthy trial spanning 3 weeks in October 2018, Mr. Justice Birrs handed down his judgment on 21 January 2019
The crucial aspects of the judgment include:
- Invista’s “claim for breach of confidence is dismissed altogether”;
- “The defendants did not misuse any confidential information which Invista had any right to protect after their employments ended”;
- Invista’s three-month post-employment non-competition clause, which is understood to be included in thousands of its employee’s contracts, failed because Mr Justice Birss considered the clause to be “an unreasonable restraint of trade”;
- Many of the documents claimed to be Invista’s “Company Property” during the proceedings were not so and “That aspect of the case is dismissed”. Of the handful of documents of around 36,000 in dispute, that were judged by Mr Justice Birss to be Invista’s Company Property and not deleted by the Drs Botes and Chen before their termination of employment with Invista, Mr Justice Birss stated that their retention was a “breach of contract”. However, there had been no misuse at all in relation to those documents and the Defendants had already agreed to deliver up and delete the same long ago.
- While Mr Justice Birss ruled that Dr Chokkathukalam had retained (post-employment with Invista) certain documents, which were Invista Company Property, he did this “pending resolution” of an employment dispute with Invista and was therefore “was not a breach of his contract”. Indeed, that employment claim had resulted in a substantial sum of money being paid by Invista to Dr Chokkathukalam in relation to a claim for constructive dismissal and discrimination.
- Invista’s claim that the Defendants had sought to induce its supplier, SilicoLife, to breach their contract with Invista was “dismissed”.
- Mr Justice Birss did find that Dr Botes had breached her “non-solicitation” clause in relation to her communications with Drs Chokkathukalam and Chen, her colleagues and friends, while they were still employed by Invista, and that all three individual defendants were found to have breached their “duty of fidelity” to Invista in that respect.
- Finally, Mr Justice Birss ordered that there would be “no inquiries as to damages”.
Following on from Mr Justice Birss’ judgment, the parties are expected to attend court in the coming weeks in order to argue their proposed final form of order including legal costs.
We will keep you all updated as to the result and will also be writing in our forthcoming blogs as to the consequences of this decision for all businesses.
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