Former Ph.D. Student Files Lawsuit Against University Seeking $10 Million for Royalties Dispute

Suit alleges breach of contract and fraud following antibiotics discovery

Mark G. Charest, a former Harvard Ph.D. student, has filed a lawsuit against the University and chemistry and chemical biology professor Andrew G. Myers, seeking an estimated $10 million as compensation for alleged breach of contract and fraud, among other allegations.

The complaint, which was filed on Friday, alleges that Charest was not properly compensated for a discovery resulting from his research on synthetic tetracycline antibiotics in Myers’s laboratory. Charest claims that in 2005, the year after he received his Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical biology, he was coerced into agreeing to take a smaller share of patent royalties than he would have been allocated under Harvard’s policy had he not signed the agreement.

The lawsuit asserts that Charest was further cheated in 2009 when a percentage of his royalties was allocated to a new patent on which he was not listed as an author and has not received any compensation. According to the lawsuit, Charest later unsuccessfully appealed the decision, and 45 percent of his royalties were ultimately reallocated.

An emailed statement Tuesday provided by University spokesperson Kevin Galvin defended the University’s intellectual property policy, maintaining it had been followed in Charest’s case.

“Harvard’s intellectual property policy was properly designed, and appropriately implemented with respect to Dr. Charest and his contribution to the advances in synthetic tetracycline antibiotics that occurred in Dr. Andrew Myers's laboratory,” the statement said.

The University’s statement also claims that Charest and his three non-faculty colleagues had “all approved of the royalty share that they received.” Regarding the 2009 patent dispute, the statement contends that Charest had “agreed to abide by Harvard’s appeals process regarding the reallocation of royalties once Harvard licensed a second patent for an invention in which Dr. Charest played no part: A panel of disinterested faculty experts reviewed and rejected Dr. Charest’s assessment of the value of his personal contribution to the tetracycline inventions.”

But Brian O’Reilly, an attorney with the New York-based litigation firm O’Reilly IP representing Charest in the case, contested the University’s response in an emailed statement of his own on Wednesday. Writing that Charest “never agreed to abide by the Harvard appeal panel decision,” O’Reilly refuted the University’s claim that the appeal panel rejected the value of Charest’s contributions to the discovery.

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