This story has been updated with a statement from MicaSense
A Ventura County Superior Court jury awarded AeroVironment Inc. more than $2 million after finding three former employees engaged in fraud and breached patent and confidentiality agreements.
Gabriel Torres, Justin McAllister and Jeff McBride left the Monrovia-based manufacturer of unmanned aircraft and vehicle charging stations to start MicaSense Inc., a Seattle developer of sensors attached to drones for use in farming.
AeroVironment develops, manufactures and tests its unmanned aircraft in Simi Valley. Its Quantix drone can take digital images of up to 400 acres of crops in a 45-minute flight and software can process the data to deliver actionable intelligence to farmers.
Torres, McAllister and McBride were found by the jury on Feb. 26 to have engaged in fraud, and Torres and McAllister breached patent and confidentiality agreements. The jury awarded punitive damages against all three defendants for a total verdict of $2.4 million.
AeroVironment Chief Executive Wahid Nawabi called innovation and intellectual property development a pillar of the company’s value creation strategy.
“We consider any violation of our intellectual property rights a serious offense against our company, employees, customers and stockholders,” Nawabi said in a statement. “We will continue to protect our rights aggressively.”
In a statement released by the trio from MicaSense, they said that AeroVironment's characterization of the jury trial as “misleading” and that the jury rejected the majority of claims against them, including that they never made false representations.
“In fact, the jury specifically rejected AeroVironment’s claim that we took any intellectual property belonging to them,” Torres, McAllister and McBride said in the statement.
Additionally, the damages awarded to the company were a fraction of what AeroVironment sought. The three disagree with that decision and are confident it will be reversed on appeal, they said in the statement.
Shares of AeroVironment (AVAV) closed down $1.02, or just more than 2 percent, to $48.70 on the Nasdaq.