Idexx Laboratories, the Westbrook veterinary services firm, has accused two former employees and Portland-based Vets First Choice of stealing secret business plans and information.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Idexx said Dan Leach and Agostino Scicchitano took confidential planning documents and training materials from company computers when they moved to Vets First Choice during an “aggressive” push by that company to recruit Idexx workers.

The two employees violated non-compete agreements that they would not work for a direct competitor to Idexx after they left the company, and Vets First Choice encouraged the former employees to disregard those agreements, Idexx said.

“Put simply, it appears that VFC is incentivizing Idexx employees to not only violate their non-compete agreements, but also misappropriate Idexx trade secrets,” the company said in its lawsuit.

In a written statement, Vets First Choice co-founder David Shaw, who also founded Idexx, said the company was not able to comment on the pending litigation.

“Acting with integrity, including protection of intellectual property, data privacy and information security, is a core value at Vets First Choice,” Shaw said.

A spokeswoman for Henry Schein, a global health care products company that announced in April the planned spinoff and merger of its animal health business with Vets First Choice – a transaction that is expected to close at the end of this year – had no comment on the lawsuit.

Idexx and Vets First Choice are part of a fast-growing cluster of animal health companies in the Portland area.

Leach left Idexx for Vets First Choice last December, and Scicchitano left for the company in April, according to Idexx. Both employees accessed confidential business information and used data storage devices on company computers immediately before resigning from Idexx and would not disclose what company they were moving to, according to the lawsuit.

Neither of the former employees worked in Idexx’s laboratory or research and development. Leach was employed as a business analyst and Scicchitano as a senior trainer in the sales department. Both men were hired into similar positions at Vets First Choice, according to Idexx. The company alleges they could use confidential information about Idexx’s customer service software and proprietary training programs in their new positions at Vets First Choice.

After finding out that Leach was hired by Vets First Choice, Idexx sent him and the company a cease-and-desist letter insisting that the Idexx non-compete agreement prevented Leach from working with a direct competitor for two years after leaving the company.

In another cease-and-desist letter to Vets First Choice in April, Idexx identified five other former employees now working there in violation of their non-compete agreements. It also accused Vets First Choice of giving employees hired from Idexx “the misimpression and false comfort” that the non-compete agreement was unenforceable because it said the two companies are not direct competitors.

“Should VFC continue to hire people who have Idexx proprietary and confidential information, which if accessed by VFC would unfairly compromise Idexx’s competitive position, Idexx will have no choice but to bring a legal action to protect its interests,” the company said in the April letter.

Idexx was founded in 1983 by Shaw and develops diagnostic equipment for veterinarians. The company employs 7,000 globally, including 2,500 in Westbrook. An expansion underway there will allow it to hire 600 more. Shaw retired as chairman and CEO of Idexx in January 2002.

Vets First Choice was co-founded in 2010 by Shaw and his son Ben Shaw, and provides an online platform for veterinary practices to access pharmaceuticals for animals. It had about 800 employees this spring when the planned merger was announced and intends to launch a public offering. Once that transaction is complete, David Shaw is expected to become chairman of the board of the new company, Vets First Corp., and Ben Shaw will be CEO.

Both men are partners in Black Point Group, a private investment firm in Portland.

Idexx has not asked the court for a specific monetary award, but said in the lawsuit it stands to lose millions of dollars in intellectual property and trade secrets and that the incident has caused irreparable harm to its business and reputation.

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