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GeoMetWatch Sues USU and Subsidiary over Hosted Payload Weather Sensor

By Caleb Henry | May 20, 2014
      GeoMetWatch orbiter rendition

      GeoMetWatch orbiter rendition. Photo: GeoMetWatch

      [Via Satellite 05-20-2014] Following the disintegration of a deal to collaboratively build 300-kg hyperspectral sounders, weather and analytics company GeoMetWatch filed suit against Utah State University and its subsidiary the Advanced Weather Systems Foundation. GeoMetWatch was building Sounding and Tracking Observatory for Regional Meteorology (STORM) hosted payloads with the university, the first of which was planned to fly onboard the Space Systems/Loral (SSL)-built AsiaSat 9 satellite. After funding proved difficult to secure, GeoMetWatch and USU disbanded, and AsiaSat subsequently cancelled its agreement to orbit the sounder.

      The lawsuit also targets Alan E. Hall, CEO of Tempus Global Data of Ogden, Utah and angel investor at Island Park Investments, also in Ogden, Utah. After terminating its contract with GeoMetWatch, USU selected Tempus to resume working on the STORM sensors. GeoMetWatch claims that it was lured into disclosing extremely valuable business and trade secrets, which were built on six years of research and planning. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition and violation of Section 43 of the Lanham Act, the main federal trademark statute of law in the United States.

      “Obviously we are deeply disappointed that our good faith efforts to build an enterprise in partnership with a respected institution such as Utah State has resulted in the need to protect our interests and those of our shareholders in this manner,” said Edward A. Keible, Jr. CEO of GeoMetWatch. “One simply doesn’t anticipate that a university would violate the trust of its business partners, which we believe the evidence supporting our assertions clearly demonstrates.”

      The sounders, GeoMetWatch’s main product, are designed to collect weather data from geostationary orbit (GEO). STORM is a spinoff of the Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer, a former NASA project that was never completed. A constellation of six sensors would provide a wealth of information for use in predicting hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe storms, which in GEO, would mean nonstop global coverage. The data would be sold to domestic and foreign governments, along with other customers, to improve forecasting and provide more time for early warning systems.

      After parting ways with GeoMetWatch, USU’s partnership with Tempus roused GeoMetWatch’s suspicions. Hall said the STORM project would create new jobs in the recently formed Advanced Weather Systems Foundation once fully funded. The foundation today has seven employees, but that number could rise to upwards of 40.

      “I think the technology is revolutionary; it’s going to change the way we look at weather,” Hall said following the partnership. “It’s a singular technology that only comes along every couple of decades.”

      GeoMetWatch is seeking immediate preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to halt the project, arguing that this would prevent permanent and irreparable harm to the company’s investments. Additionally, GeoMetWatch is seeking damages for past and continuing harm. The company believes that USU and its partners intentionally stole trade secrets and proprietary information under false pretenses to gain access to the technology.

      GeoMetWatch is now working with Exelis instead of USU to continue developing the hyperspectral sounder. The resumed project uses a design based on Exelis’ Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). Exelis is under contract for seven other ABI instruments. The company estimates it is able to manufacture a hyperspectral sounder in approximately three years’ time.