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

Suit alleges breach of contract and fraud following antibiotics discovery

By Madeline R. Conway, Crimson Staff Writer

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.

No one, including the appeal panel, has ever disputed Dr. Charest's personal contribution to the groundbreaking tetracycline inventions,” O’Reilly said. “The only issue the panel decided was the relative value of the pioneering tetracycline patents and the latter added method patent; a decision that was at odds with Harvard’s [intellectual property] policy.”

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Charest called interactions with Harvard about the dispute “exceedingly difficult and frustrating.”

“There has been a lack of collaborative spirit and transparency in the process from the outset,” Charest said. “I have openly explored every avenue to work toward resolution of the various ‘valuation issues’ over the years.”

According to O’Reilly, he and Charest wrote to Harvard and Myers on May 28 requesting a settlement, to which Harvard and Myers’s counsel responded through a letter refusing the offer on June 27.

Myers did not respond to a request for comment, and Derek Barton, a senior administrative manager for research who manages Myers’s laboratories, could not be reached for comment this week.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at mconway@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: July 9, 2013

An earlier version of this article misquoted a statement from former Ph.D. Mark G. Charest about his interactions with Harvard regarding a royalties dispute. In fact, Charest claimed that from the “outset,” not from the “outside,” the process has lacked collaboration and transparency.

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