Monday, January 16, 2012

Organic chemist charged with IP theft

From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a pretty awful little story of an employee stealing trade secrets for their own. From the article by Marc Reisch: 
As at the larger companies, Frontier requires employees to sign confidentiality agreements when they start work. Mohapatra signed such an agreement when he joined Frontier in October 2009. The scientist’s profile on the business networking website LinkedIn shows that he came to Frontier with a Ph.D. in organic synthesis from Delhi University and had worked as a research scientist at India-based pharmaceutical maker Ranbaxy Laboratories. 
According to the complaint filed in Utah Federal District Court, in October 2011 a coworker witnessed Mohapatra call up the syntheses for 2,2´-dipyrromethane and Fe(III) meso-tetra [o-dichlorophenyl] porphine chloride on his company desktop computer and mail them through his personal e-mail account. Miller says the former compound is an intermediate for a drug now undergoing clinical studies, and the latter is a conductive compound in development for use in solar panels and batteries. 
After the coworker reported her observations to her superiors, the firm’s information technology manager reviewed the hard drive in Mohapatra’s computer and discovered he had e-mailed those two formulas as well as two others to the president of Medchemblox, a planned Indian fine chemicals company. The complaint identifies Medchemblox’ president as an official with Dr. Silviu Pharmachem, an India-based company specializing in porphyrins and porphyrin building-block compounds. The review also turned up an e-mail from the president of Medchemblox. It told Mohapatra that the information he provided would enable Medchemblox to make a six-month supply of the iron porphyrin complex for a competitor of Frontier’s based in Germany.
On Oct. 26, Frontier placed Mohapatra on administrative leave and revoked his access to company computers. The complaint notes that Mohapatra subsequently admitted to Frontier officials that he had a stake in Medchemblox, as did his brother-in-law. Mohapatra also sent an e-mail to Frontier’s chief operating officer in which he wrote, “I realize I may have done something wrong. … Even if you lay off me [sic] or put me in jail I will not do anything to hurt FSI. I will keep out all together for myself of Frontier’s business.” Frontier fired Mohapatra on Nov. 1.
According to Miller, Frontier has an internal security system that mandates rigorous data isolation and requires, for instance, the use of multiple passwords and user-names. “We were surprised this happened,” he says.
Yet another chemist that fell victim to MICE. I find it interesting that Frontier (best known by me for being in Utah) has better IT security (i.e. something) rather than the typical nothing. Corporate IT security needs to get better -- and companies need to think about whether they have trade secrets that need to be protected.

Perhaps this is buying trouble, but... the intelligence agencies during the Cold War were famous for their molehunts and their molehunters, with careers (and lives?) hanging in the balance. Is that in our future?

(Hey, what was that employee doing watching her colleague cut-and-paste (or whatever) and e-mail?)
(Did you know that ASDI went out of business? I sure didn't.)

13 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure you can get preps for that porphyrin from the public domain literature... 90% I've made it myself in the past 6 mos and I've never heard of FSI...

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    1. You are right. No secrets here.

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  2. Maybe it was a scale-up that was nabbed? Either way, sticking company info into your e-mail and sending it to a competitor is a really bad idea...

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  3. Anon @07:53
    It's one thing to repeat Lindsey's preps on half gram scale running three columns in the process. The scale-up procedure which describes making tens or hundreds of grams and disposes with chromatography may be quite valuable.

    That being said, I don't feel sorry in the slightest degree for anyone here. I am sure Frontier had plenty US applicants for this position yet they went out of their way to import this guy. They are getting exactly what they have deserved. Fingers crossed for real prison time.

    In related news - Chinese scientist sentenced for selling DOW trade secrets to, well, China. DOW estimates damages to be in high millions.

    http://news.yahoo.com/scientist-sentenced-selling-chemical-secrets-chinese-234749316.html
    http://www.mbtmag.com/news/2012/01/man-sentenced-selling-dow-chemical-secrets-china

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    1. Lindsey did not use column chromatography to make 2,2'-dipyrromethane (JOC, 1999, 64, 1391-1396).

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  4. Yet another affect that the BCG's and mickensey's didn't realize.

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  5. Starting sometime in 2013 (Feb?) the U.S. joins the rest of the world in awarding patents to the first to apply rather than the "first to discover". Will it be a problem for so many of our beloved companies to have all of their R&D somewhere overseas?

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  6. CJ, this guy used to go under pseudonym Dr_ppm and and also Pmgb. He had a chemistry blog, now deleted.

    I hope he does not get to land in jail for this (an easy target of a prosecutor and a pissed company who might want to make an example of him) because he came across as a clueless and earnest fool acting according to his (very dim) lights. I am even willing to believe his assertion that he meant no harm to Frontier by his actions. From what I understand he actually wanted to keep his job at Frontier and use Frontier as a US distributor of stuff they were going to make in India... So he does not strike me as a devious character, like Abdul Qadeer Khan, one who plots to loot his employer wholesale and flee with the spoils back to Asia - its more like a shambolic dreamer hoping to earn few bucks in this bizarre trading scheme.

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  7. If this idiot thought that this would lead to riches instead of jail, he was sorely mistaken.

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  8. No I think he did not have a clue how seriously bad was what he we attempting to do - thats why he worked on his new company logo and webpage right in the office at Frontier, and colleagues noticed. And then he even copied the procedure files and e-mailed it from his private e-mail while at work, all in plain sight of his office colleagues. My take is that this fellow is some sort of maleable imbecile and my other guess is that his brother in law or cousin or whatever relative (that was about to start their own company in India) was the pushing force, trying to use him, milk him for contacts and company secrets.

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  9. Your last guess is wrong. No company secrets were sent. It is all in public.

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  10. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56235889-78/mohapatra-information-judge-fsi.html.csp

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