Monday, March 09, 2009, 3/09/2009 10:45:00 AM

Johnson & Johnson Subsidiary Sues Bausch & Lomb For "Flagrant Pirating" of Employees and Theft of Trade Secrets

By Todd

Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Vistakon Pharmaceuticals LLC asked a federal judge Thursday to put an end to Bausch & Lomb Inc.’s “flagrant pirating” of Vistakon’s sales force, days after filing suit over the alleged wrongdoing.

Vistakon urged Judge Timothy J. Corrigan of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to issue a preliminary injunction barring B&L from trying to recruit Vistakon’s sales staff as it prepares to bring a new antibacterial eye solution to market in April.

Last month, Vistakon filed suit against B&L for tortious interference and violation of Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act after B&L allegedly tried to lure its rival’s best sales representatives to help debut B&L’s ophthalmic eyewash.

While B&L sells contact lenses and contact lens solutions, its new product is the first ocular anti-bacterial product, and the defendant is trying by hook or by crook to assemble a sales force with relevant expertise, the complaint says.

“In the past two to three weeks, plaintiff is aware that B&L has solicited at least one-fourth of plaintiff’s sales representatives and is inducing them to breach their agreements with plaintiff,” the complaint said.

B&L is fully cognizant of its unlawful actions, informing the sales representatives that if they defected they would by promoting a competing product and misappropriating Vistakon’s customer relationships and good will, according to the complaint.

In addition to violating employment law with its “raid on plaintiff’s talent," B&L is trying to weaken its competitor by usurping a full quarter of its expert sales staff, the complaint says.

In order to contact Vistakon’s employees, B&L inappropriately obtained internal confidential contact information, the complaint says.

B&L is launching Optura in April to compete with Vistakon’s ocular anti-bacterial treatment for conjunctivitis and eye infections following surgery, Vistakon says, and by co-opting the employees, B&L will assemble a crack sales team overnight to vie for a market worth several hundred million dollars a year.

Vistakon’s sales team is highly trained and constitutes a considerable investment by the company, which expends roughly $25,000 in training each representative and loses as much as $100,000 in sales while bringing the individual up to speed, the complaint says.

The defendant's actions are consistent with a series of moves it made in recent years on Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc.’s talent pool, leading to the hire of numerous J&J executives, the complaint says.

The suit alleges one count of intentional interference with a contractual relationship, one count of interference with a beneficial relationship and one count of violating the state’s trade practices act.

Vistakon seeks a injunction upholding the employees’ noncompete agreements and preventing B&L from recruiting any Vistakon staff for its Optura product, as well as an order prohibiting the defendant from hiring any Vistakon employee for the next year.

The suit also asks B&L to relinquish all internal Vistakon documents, and seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees.

These companies have a litigious past between them: We'll keep a dry eye on this story for you.

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