Ravell Call, Deseret News
LOGAN — A Nevada-based corporation that worked with Utah State University to develop an advanced satellite weather sensing system is suing the university, accusing it of conspiring with another company to drive it out of business.
GeoMetWatch Corporation initially approached USU in 2009 to help finance and build multimillion dollar weather instruments called STORM sensors, which use next-generation technology in monitoring and predicting weather patterns.
Since then, the corporation built "a storehouse of intellectual property that would be invaluable to a potential competitor," according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court on May 16.
In early 2013, USU formed the Utah State University Advanced Weather Systems Foundation — a corporate subsidy separate from the university at large — to oversee the project, according to university spokesman Tim Vitale. The foundation and GeoMetWatch soon entered into nondisclosure and preferred provider agreements.
Later that year, relations between GeoMetWatch and the foundation became strained due to financial problems, according to the complaint.
In September, GeoMetWatch says it was encouraged by USU to meet with Alan Hall, a potential investor who could provide funding or could introduce other potential investors. The corporation was also "pressured" to share confidential information on the project with Hall, the complaint states.
GeoMetWatch claims Hall began meeting privately in October with the USU Advanced Weather Systems Foundation and commercial partners of the corporation, which was not included in the meetings.
Hall and GeoMetWatch signed a nondisclosure agreement, which protects against the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information "whether before or after" the agreement was signed in November, according to the complaint.
In December, Hall established a new company in Ogden, Tempus Global Data. Over the next two months, the foundation ended several contracts with GeoMetWatch, saying the corporation failed to perform contractual obligations.
"They failed to meet several deadlines that were clearly communicated to them and written into contracts we had with them," Vitale said. "And they failed to meet those deadlines on multiple occasions."
In late March, Tempus Global Data announced on its website that it had "opened its operations in Utah to deliver next generation weather data to commercial and government customers."
GeoMetWatch alleges that Hall and Tempus Global Data — which now oversees the development of STORM sensors — "conspired with USU at the eleventh hour to not only steal (GeoMetWatch's) trade secrets, but to pull the entire business out from under (GeoMetWatch)," the complaint states.
Hall, Island Park Investments, Tempus Global Data, USU and USU Advanced Weather Systems Foundation are all listed as defendants in the complaint.
Mark Hurst, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Tempus Global Data, said the company plans to defend itself in the lawsuit, but wouldn't respond to details listed in the complaint.
"We just think it's inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the suit," he said.
Vitale says claims from GeoMetWatch have largely been misdirected toward the university as a whole when it was the foundation that had contracts with GeoMetWatch.
"The university did not cut ties with GeoMetWatch because USU has not entered into a contract with them," Vitale said. "Instead, AWSF, a university foundation and a separate corporate subsidy, cut the ties."
Vitale said the allegations are "without merit" and "a complete misrepresentation of facts."
"We will certainly vigorously defend ourselves in court against the baseless claims," he said.
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