Optum sues to protect trade secrets from Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture

Optum, the rapidly growing health services unit of UnitedHealth Group, filed a lawsuit seeking to protect its trade secrets from a healthcare venture launched by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, according to STAT.

Five things to know:

1. The federal lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts District Court in Boston Jan. 16, aims to stop former Optum executive David Smith from divulging confidential information he allegedly obtained before being hired by the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture in December 2018.

2. The lawsuit, which refers to the new company as "ABC," claims the venture hired Mr. Smith as its director of product strategy and research as "part of [ABC's] larger plan to lift Optum's model or, at the very least, to duplicate or develop similar products and services." Optum asserted that Mr. Smith can't work for the new venture without violating noncompete and nondisclosure agreements or "using and/or disclosing Optum's trade secrets," according to the complaint cited by STAT.

3. Optum also argued that despite ABC's intentions to run the entity as a nonprofit, it doesn't see the company as a small, internal effort to improve healthcare for employees of Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan.

"Contrary to ABC's and Smith's representations, ABC's public statements demonstrate that ABC provides or intends to provide healthcare services, which compete with Optum's services, to the same client base," according to the lawsuit, cited by STAT. The lawsuit notes the venture's founding companies are Optum clients.

4. In a statement to STAT, Optum spokesperson Matt Stearns said: "UnitedHealth Group is a leader in healthcare because our people have spent decades developing custom products and services — intellectual property — that serve the needs of millions of individuals. While we won't comment on any specific personnel matter, we are committed to protecting the hard work of our colleagues."

Mr. Smith's attorney declined the publication's request for comment. A spokesperson for the venture, to be led by Atul Gawande, MD, also declined STAT's request for comment. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29 in Boston. 

5. Mr. Smith, who started at the company Jan. 17, isn't the only former Optum employee to be scooped up by the venture. In fact, Optum's lawsuit accuses Mr. Smith of helping ABC hire his colleague Caitlin Fleming, a former product director at Optum. In September 2018, the venture selected former Comcast exec Jack Stoddard —  who was part of the executive team that created Optum — to fill its COO position.

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