GSK launches trade secrets case against former employee, ordering data and property to be returned 'in one piece'

Following Pfizer and AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline is the latest drug major to launch a trade secrets case against an ex-staffer. For GSK, the case comes after several other high-profile trade secrets suits that ended in settlements.

In Maryland's federal court last week, GSK accused former employee Denise Brooks of trade secrets theft. The company says that on Jan. 13, the defendant “abruptly” resigned from her job as a GSK quality systems lead, a position that gave her “wide-ranging access” to proprietary company data, confidential methods and highly-sensitive trade secrets.

On the same day as her resignation, Brooks used her GSK credentials to enter GSK’s facility in Rockville, Maryland, where she swapped out her older GSK-issued laptop for a brand-new company computer, the company said. During the process, Brooks had the company's IT personnel copy a “wealth” of trade secrets and confidential information from her old laptop to the new one. The IT workers weren’t aware of Brooks’ resignation, GSK argued.

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Further, shortly before her resignation “and apparently in anticipation of it,” GSK alleges, Brooks emailed additional GSK info to her personal email account, the company said.

The alleged theft doesn't end there, GSK says. Between Jan. 10 and Jan. 17, Brooks transferred certain documents from a GSK laptop to an unknown external storage device and a Kingston USB drive, the company argued.

GSK has attempted to resolve the issue with its former employee, but she has "ignored multiple requests to return GSK Trade Secrets and Confidential Information,” the company claims in the court filing.

That forced the company to take Brooks to court, where it argued her unlawful possession, transfer and potential misuse of GSK trade secrets and other confidential info could “irreparably harm” the company unless the court intervenes.

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After hearing the arguments, the court did just that. On Tuesday, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted GSK’s motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Brooks.

“GSK has demonstrated that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its misappropriation claim,” the court said in its Feb. 15 opinion.

The order blocks Brooks from accessing, using or disclosing any of GSK’s confidential data or information. She must also immediately return all GSK property in her possession, the court said. Brooks isn’t allowed to delete any GSK-owned media, documents or data. She must provide proof that she didn't delete any documents she took from GSK’s internal network, and she must preserve any documents relevant to the trade secrets case.

“GSK asks in the main for its data and its physical property to be preserved, protected, and returned in one piece,” the court added.

RELATED: Third former GlaxoSmithKline scientist pleads guilty to stealing company secrets

This isn't GSK’s first trade secrets entanglement. Back in 2018, two former GSK scientists—Yu Xue and Tao Li—plead guilty to conspiracy to steal proprietary info from GSK. Earlier this year, a third scientist, Lucy Xi, admitted her guilt in the conspiracy, which aimed to benefit the Chinese company Renopharma.

Last summer, federal prosecutors failed to convince a court to order restitution in the case.

Meanwhile, the news comes as drugmakers Pfizer and AbbVie grapple with their own, separate trade secrets disputes. In AbbVie’s case, the drugmaker accused Alvotech of recruiting an employee who made off with confidential documents on Humira’s manufacturing shortly before switching jobs. A federal judge in Illinois tossed the case in October, and AbbVie is appealing the decision.

Elsewhere, Pfizer last year filed suit against former employee Chun Xiao Li, who it accused of uploading more than 12,000 files, including “confidential Pfizer documents,” to a personal Google Drive account, as well as personal devices. In early December, the defendant agreed to let Pfizer’s lawyers search her personal emails, Google Drive accounts and all other personal computing devices or accounts that could contain confidential information or trade secrets.