Hákon Hákonarson and deCODE genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson used to consider each other friends. Hákonarson, the former vice president of business development at the Icelandic biopharmaceutical company, used to ride horses with Stefánsson and spend time with him outside of work. That all ended in May, 2006, when Hákonarson left deCODE to direct and help form the new Center for Applied Genomics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
On August 4, deCODE sued Hákonarson and four other former deCODE employees who moved to CHOP, arguing that the new CHOP genomics center was a direct competitor of deCODE, and that Hákonarson had acted as a "double agent" for CHOP during his final months at deCODE, recruited other former deCODE employees to do the same, and destroyed evidence of their misdeeds.
The defendants denied all allegations: "The notion that there was any 'plot' is preposterous," according to their response. Stefánsson knew of Hákonarson's plans long before he left deCODE, and even discussed a possible collaboration with the Center for Applied Genomics, they claimed. "In sum, this lawsuit is not about any supposed "threat" to deCODE's "assets," but rather the vindictive, misguided result of Stefánsson's bruised ego." They say Stefánsson removed Hákonarson's name from the author list of a Nature Genetics paper out of jealousy, and repeatedly denigrated and humiliated another codefendant, calling him "a f**king idiot" and "piece of sh*t" in front of others, and punching him in the ribs.
During the trial, deCODE offered segments of e-mails (sent from deCODE and personal accounts, and recently obtained by The Scientist from Philadelphia court records) between Hákonarson and the four other defendants (who also left deCODE for CHOP) as evidence that they conspired against deCODE:
Hákonarson to codefendant Struan Grant, on or about May 30, 2006: "I terminated my contract with decode ... they now have all my folders, but I don't think there is any trail with you or the others since I have been using the CHOP or hotmail e-mail ... So for you to proceed with your resignation would probably be best late Wed. since it's the tail-end of the month."
Hákonarson to Grant, May 30, 2006: "My deCODE contract, as you know, blocks me from approaching coworkers, but as long as you decided to leave and you approach me, I'm ok and you of course start by telling about the other opportunities first — if you are approached."
Grant to Hákonarson, in response: "Thanks for the feedback. I am absolutely on the same page as you on what I will say."
Grant to Hákonarson, May 31, 2006, providing a story for his resignation: "... just so we are straight over our story if and when the occassion [sic] arises (obviously we would probably never need to give so much detail!)"
Hákonarson to Grant, in response: "Hi Struan. I didn't know you were this good of a storyteller! Yes, this is a great one and they can't blame me for anything."
Hákonarson to codefendant Jonathan Bradfield, May 31, 2006: "My computer was open yesterday and likely still is: It would be good if you would go in on my profile (you could use your laptop or any computer in the building) and double check that I had deleted all files/folders related to this new stuff at CHOP. ... Would greatly appreciate if you could do this to be on the safe side. If you could go into my lotus e-mail also and delete all e-mail from my wife (Maria Bjork Ivarsdottir), since they may include some comments on this — both e-mail she sent me and I her."
The trial settled out of court in June 2007.