Another David versus Goliath tale. This one is from Australia, where Jarrod Ritchie risked everything in a four-year legal battle with the drugmaker. The career scientist left his job to start a rival company, and knew Glaxo would be unhappy,The Age writes. But he didn't expect Glaxo to allegedly tarnish his professional reputation and block him from working in the industry where he had spent many years.
The industry at the heart of the dispute is the extraction of opiate alkaloids from Tasmanian poppies for use in pain-relievers such as morphine. Tasmania supplies 40 percent of the world's legal opiates and, until recently, the industry was dominated by Glaxo and Tasmanian Alkaloids, owned by Johnson & Johnson, the Age continues.
But Ritchie saw an opportunity to take on the established players, and in December 2003 left his senior position at Glaxo to start TPI Enterprises, which later won the backing of several dozen wealthy investors, according to The Age. He acknowledged he had been working on his plans for TPI during his final months at Glaxo, but tells the paper he did so without compromising his work.
The next year, Glaxo launched a legal challenge, arguing Ritchie used knowledge he gained in the seven years he worked at its poppy plant at Port Fairy, Victoria. Ritchie chose to fight the claim, selling all his personal assets to fund his defense, and at one stage representing himself due to limited resources, the paper writes.
Glaxo sought an injunction to block him from using knowledge gained in his time at the drugmaker, which amounted to 14 box folders. If it succeeded, the injunction would have effectively crippled TPI, the paper reports. But four days before the trial, GSK limited its claim to about 30 points of similarity between the process used by Glaxo and TPI in extracting opiate alkaloids from the poppies, the paper writes. Glaxo rejected two offers, which was a mistake. The judgement was delivered last month and released this week without confidential Glaxo info.
The judgement rebuked the drugmaker, dismissing every claim. "I have been unable to find that any of the claims made by the plaintiff have been proved," Justice David Harper said, according to the paper. "The link between what was confidential and what was misused, an essential link in a claim based upon the misuse of confidential information, had not been carefully drawn."
"Once proceedings against you are initiated and it's about your credibility, especially as my background's science, any damage to your credibility goes on forever," he tells The Age. "I really didn't have an option but to fight it out. Believe me, there are many times I would have liked to have ended...I was surprised the lengths they went to."
Glaxo may appeal. "GSK places great value in our intellectual property assets and we are therefore very disappointed with this decision," the drugmaker tells the paper.
Both Glaxo and J&J use petroleum-based solvents to extract opium from poppy heads, but TPI developed a water alternative considered safer and cheaper, according to The Age, which added that the legal dispute came as TPI was trying to break into the market and faced reluctant farmers.