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Las Vegas company alleges USU drove it out of business; school calls federal lawsuit baseless

SALT LAKE CITY - A Las Vegas company that partnered with Utah State University four years ago on a multimillion-dollar project to develop a satellite-based weather system is accusing the university of conspiring with an outside investor to drive the company out of business.

GeoMetWatch makes the accusations in a lawsuit filed earlier this month in federal court in Utah.

The Logan-based Utah State University calls the lawsuit baseless and a complete misrepresentation of facts. The university announced in April it was scrapping its contract with the company and partnering with a new firm.

In the lawsuit, GeoMetWatch says it spent millions of dollars and invested thousands of hours to create the system, only to see the Logan-based university switch gears and go into partnership with northern Utah investor Alan Hall. The company says the university arranged secret meetings with Hall and shared GeoMetWatch's trade secrets, terminating its contract after Hall formed a weather data company.

The university has made false and misleading comments intended to drive the company out of business, the lawsuit says. The company says the relationship soured in 2013 because of financial problems.

Utah State University officials have a different version of events. The partnership was ended because GeoMetWatch failed to meet several deadlines, university spokesman Tim Vitale said. The lawsuit is "ludicrous" and "if necessary, we will defend ourselves vigorously in court against what we see as baseless claims," he said.

The Herald Journal of Logan first reported the story (http://bit.ly/1tit8ON).

The lawsuit comes nearly four years after the two sides announced a collaboration to design and build weather-sensing instruments for satellites that GeoMetWatch CEO David Crain said would bring about $420 million in contracts to the university.

The first instrument was scheduled to be ready in early 2014, and Crain said GeoMetWatch was even considering building a data centre in Utah.

But the instrument was never built, and the two sides are entrenched in a legal battle.

GeoMetWatch says it created a detailed business plan, financial model, a list of potential customers and "a vast database of highly sensitive technical and business trade secrets_a storehouse of intellectual property that would be invaluable to a potential competitor," the lawsuit says.

The company is accusing Utah State University of breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation and unfair competition.

GeoMetWatch has not put a monetary value on the damages it is seeking. It's only asking immediate relief to prevent "irreparable harm" to the business.

Hall, who is named in the lawsuit, declined comment through a spokesman for the company he founded this year to commercialize the Utah State satellite-based weather system. Hall is a well-known investor in Ogden, who is the chairman of the board of trustees at Weber State University.

His new company, Tempus Global Data, announced in April that it had taken over the commercialization of the satellite-based weather system after a "falling out" with GeoMetWatch. The company is negotiating to get the instrument on a satellite that will be launched by a Hong Kong-bases company in early 2018, said Mark Hurst, executive vice-president of sales and marketing.

It will likely take three years to build the system, he said, with the end goal of selling data from the sensors to the U.S. government, insurers and others looking for a better way to get information about weather that is coming, Hurst said.

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