By Melinda Rose, Senior Editor
CORVALLIS, Ore., July 31, 2012 — Ultrafast fiber laser maker Deep Photonics Corp. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company currently is suing its former CEO and others for allegedly transferring company secrets and key employees to a competitor and is seeking $75 million in damages.
Deep Photonics filed for protection July 20 in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon. The company estimated its assets at between $50 million and $100 million, while its liabilities are between $1 million and $10 million, according to court documents.
Deep Photonics was founded in Corvallis in 2004 to develop high-power, infrared, visible and ultraviolet picosecond fiber lasers for use in semiconductor manufacturing, micromachining, medical and solar markets, according to a 2009 press release. The company's website is no longer active.
Its largest unsecured creditor is Raytex Corp. of Japan, a maker of wafer inspection metrology tools for the semiconductor industry, according to the bankruptcy filing. Raytex is reportedly owed $850,000. Other creditors include Michigan Aerospace Corp. ($216,000), laser manufacturer MPB Communications Inc. of Montreal ($37,800), and coatings and optical components maker OptoSigma Corp. ($1026). Deep Photonics has a $3 million secured note with Daehong Technew Corp. of Korea.
On Aug. 8, 2011, Deep Photonics filed suit in Oregon Circuit Court against former CEO Joseph LaChapelle, one of the company's founders, and eight others, claiming that they planned to transfer employees, equipment and trade secrets such as its picosecond laser development and cold ablation technology to high-power semiconductor laser maker nLight Photonics Corp.
The company's specific claims against LaChappelle include that he proposed dividing the company in two and threatened to take key technical staff with him to establish a competing enterprise, and that he took steps to carry out a plan to "carve off the laser design, development and manufacturing component of DPC's business for himself," according to court documents. Deep Photonics also alleges that, in concert with nLight, LaChapelle terminated certain Deep Photonics employees and then arranged to have them hired by nLight. The company also says that LaChappelle also "stepped up attempts to market lasers for industrial use" without reporting to the board, initiated discussions with nLight to merge the two companies and misappropriated trade secrets.
LaChapelle was named president and CEO of Deep Photonics in December 2003 and was fired on Sept. 8, 2009. In November 2009, he was hired by nLight and served as a vice president for two years. He is now vice president of business development at Voxtel, a manufacturer of advanced photodetectors, optoelectronic assemblies and optical instrumentation.
LaChapelle says he was fired because he objected to plans to move the company's intellectual property and technology to Korea. He also questions whether he was ever lawfully removed from the Deep Photonics board.
He filed suit in Delaware in May against both Deep Photonics and nLight for legal expenses he has already incurred that total "tens of thousands of dollars."
All three cases are continuing through the respective courts.