A cattle genetics company has filed a lawsuit accusing Washington State University of misappropriating its intellectual property for testing beef tenderness.
The complaint was filed by Tenet Beef, a company founded by retired WSU professor William Frank Hendrix and Callipyge Genetics LLC.
Tenet Beef developed a blood-based genetic test that could measure the tenderness of beef, which is intended to help ranchers raise “more marketable and better cattle, improving the overall quality and profitability of their herd,” according to the lawsuit.
The technology was developed over a decade of research in which blood samples from hundreds of cattle were collected to identify specific DNA markers associated with beef tenderness, the complaint said.
In 2019, Tenet Beef’s founders wanted to check new genetic markers for their correlation with beef tenderness and approached Zhihua Jiang, a WSU professor, for testing services, the complaint said.
“Hendrix made it clear that this was part of his ongoing business development for outside enterprises and was not part of either of their official duties as faculty members of WSU,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit claims that WSU was paid $5,000 for an initial run of tests and that Jiang agreed to conduct further testing for $1 a sample, but his “conduct and demeanor” changed last year after he “saw the potential value of the (intellectual property) on the market.”
After that, the complaint alleges Jiang upped the fee to $2 per sample and began to claim “WSU owns the rights of the genetic markers and prediction equation.”
Tenet Beef’s founders spent more than $1 million and nearly a decade on the research and rejected WSU’s contract proposal, as well as the claim that the intellectual property belonged to the university, the lawsuit said.
Once contract negotiations broke down, Tenet Beef’s founders tried recovering samples they’d provided to WSU, the complaint said. When they were returned from a third-party laboratory, portions of the specialized blotter paper cards were removed.
The plaintiff alleges that WSU withheld these portions to conduct research and create an “identical verification sample catalogue.”
Tenet Beef submitted a public records request to “determine whether or not improper conduct was occurring” but WSU redacted much of the information, claiming it’s exempt from disclosure for containing trade secrets that “would produce private gain and public loss,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit claims that WSU hasn’t responded to formal requests for dispute resolution and the plaintiff seeks an injunction barring the university from using or profiting from Tenet Beef’s intellectual property.
The complaint also seeks unspecified damages “in an amount to be proven at trial” and an order requiring WSU to fully comply with the company’s public records request.
A representative of WSU said the university would not comment on the matter because litigation is pending.