It took less than 30 minutes for a jury to award the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) and the Mid-America Research and Development Foundation (MRDF) $602,945 in their case against a former executive who profited from suspect contracts for valuable soybean technologies. The verdict came down June 15 in Jackson County, Missouri, after a three-day trial.
At issue in the litigation were two purported contracts between MSMC and Agborn Genetics, a company headed by Alex Stemme, MSMC’s former director of identity preservation. The lawsuit filed by MSMC alleged that at the same time he was working in a top leadership position at MSMC, Stemme was running Agborn Genetics and had contracts executed with his company regarding the licensing of MSMC’s proprietary soybean technology.
In the years between the contracts’ purported executions and Stemme’s resignations from MSMC in 2013, AgBorn paid some royalties to MSMC, even as it contracted with third parties to sell modified soybean seeds containing the licensed technology. (In 2015, Thompson Coburn’s intellectual property team secured patent protections for a high oleic proprietary soybean — developed by MSMC — that contains increased levels of oleic acid and made even healthier a food that already provides high amounts of protein and little fat.) Discovery in the lawsuit uncovered hundreds of thousands of unreported sales and royalties.
On May 20, Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles McKenzie granted a key summary judgment motion to MSMC, ruling the two contracts were unenforceable for lack of essential terms.
Lead counsel Todd Rowden told Missouri Lawyers Media that the verdict was unlike any other outcome he’s seen. “I’ve been a lawyer for 27 years and I’ve never seen a jury work that quickly and have us prevail on everything we’ve asked for,” he said. “Particularly in a complicated financial case like this.”
“This has been a two-and-a-half year struggle by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council to regain control of its seed technology and be paid by AgBorn for the unreported seed sales and unpaid royalties,” Todd told Missouri Lawyers Media. Key damages testimony was provided by KPMG’s partner in Forensic Accounting, Corey Martens.
“This is such an important case for soybean farmers,” said MSMC chairman and Lafayette County soybean farmer David Lueck. “We take our responsibility to manage growers’ soybean checkoff dollars very seriously and will continue to take any necessary steps to ensure farmers receive the benefit of their investments in the checkoff. There’s no excuse for anything less.”
MSMC and MRDF were represented at trial and throughout the case by Todd Rowden and Chris Hohn serving as lead trial counsel, assisted by Matt Bober and Patrick Morales-Doyle. Many other Thompson Coburn team members provided critical support on issues related to intellectual property and employment matters.
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