Apache sues former executive over trade secrets

By Natalie Posgate of The Texas Lawbook

Apache Corp. has filed suit against the former head of its Egyptian operations, alleging that the executive  misappropriated sensitive trade secrets earlier this year when he left the Houston oil and gas company to help create a start-up firm that would compete with Apache for business.

At Apache’s request, Harris County District Judge Jeff Shadwick issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday prohibiting Thomas M. Maher and the start-up, Apex International Energy Management, from using or disclosing any of Apache’s trade secrets and ordered  them to surrender the trade secrets to their lawyers.

“Apache is very concerned with the information it has confirmed regarding the actions and details of Mr. Tom Maher’s departure from the company,” Apache spokeswoman Castlen Kennedy said in a written statement. “We take the security of our proprietary, confidential, and trade secret information seriously, which is why we have requested immediate court action.”

Houston attorney Craig Smyser, who is defending Maher and Apex, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said his clients agreed to the terms of Tuesday’s court order.

Apache’s lead counsel, Tim Shelby of Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Anaipakos in Houston, could not  be reached for comment.

Maher is former head of Apache’s Egypt operations, and left the company for Apex earlier this month, the lawsuit says. Apache alleges Maher downloaded more than 230,000 Apache files to as many as nine portable USB drives between February and has last day at Apache on May 9 and brought the files over to his new job at Apex, where he serves as president and chief operating officer.

Among other things, the files include Apache’s “well, seismic survey, concession-bidding and financial information,” the lawsuit says.

According to Apache, Maher began communicating with Apex executives as early as November of last year, including Apex CEO Roger Plank, who is a former Apache president.

In addition to misappropriating trade secrets, the lawsuit alleges that Maher “played double agent, cementing his position at Apex while simultaneously remaining privy to the most sensitive of Apache internal discussions at the executive and board levels.”

This included meetings Maher arranged on behalf of Apex with top Egypt officials to inform them of “Apex’s intent to do business in Egypt as an Apache competitor and to begin to solicit” the Egypt officials, which include the minister with ultimate authority of oil and gas operations in Egypt, especially with respect to foreign investment, the lawsuit says.

“As a direct and proximate result of defendants’ conduct, Apache will suffer irreparable harm,” the complaint says. “Specifically, defendants are using Apache’s confidential, proprietary and trade secret information to gain an illegal advantage over Apache.”

Besides the restraining order, Apache’s lawsuit asks for monetary damages to be awarded, including any compensation Maher and Apex received “as a result of their misappropriation of Apache’s trade secrets.”

The temporary restraining order expires on June 24. Apache’s request for further injunction of the defendants from using its trade secrets will be determined at a June 20 hearing.

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