Jonathan Bilyk Oct. 16, 2014, 11:40am

The national organization responsible for administering the licensing exams for America’s would-be eye doctors has set its sights on suing a former Chicago area optometrist who it alleges stole secret copyright-protected test questions and sold them to test takers trying to cheat on the exams.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based National Board of Examiners in Optometry filed a 247-count complaint on Oct. 9 in Chicago's federal court against Steven P. Lee, a doctor of optometry.

While Lee ceased practicing optometry around 2013, the suit states he had practiced in the Chicago area since 2007, after he passed the NBEO’s exams, commonly known as the “national boards.” The complaint does not indicate what occupation Lee now pursues.

According to the suit, however, while practicing optometry, Lee also earned income from an online business the NBEO alleges he launched while completing his graduate studies at the Illinois College of Optometry.

Identified in the complaint as “Optometry Board Exams: Secrets Hints, Tips, Cheat Sheets,” Lee’s business allegedly specialized in the sale of what amounted to cheating aids for graduates of optometry schools seeking to obtain state licenses to practice optometry.

Those licenses can only be obtained by passing NBEO’s exams, which the NBEO says are designed to “assess competence in the knowledge necessary in the United States to practice optometry safely and effectively.”

To pass, prospective optometrists must achieve minimum scores in each of the exam’s several parts, which are administered in different installments.

The NBEO claims Lee particularly aimed his business at helping students inflate their scores in the section of the test identified in the complaint as the “Part I Exam,” a 500-question multiple-choice test offered twice a year at 22 locations nationwide.

The "Part I Exam," the NBEO contends, is “designed to measure a test-taker’s comprehension and command of the many scientific principles upon which optometric practice is based.”

Questions for the test are culled from “a secure electronic database of over 10,000 copyrighted exam questions … drafted and revised over the past four decades.”

The NBEO alleges Lee obtained the questions by interviewing prospective optometric licensees after they took the "Part I Exam," compiling their reproductions of the questions from the test into “regurgitated exam questions … compiled into various documents, which Lee eventually obtained and thereafter sold online.”

While Lee allegedly advertised the materials as “sample questions and answers,” the NBEO asserts comparisons of “sample questions” they purchased from Lee to their own official test questions revealed the materials were “the blatant product of organized efforts to re-create and misappropriate specific prior NBEO tests and test questions” designed to “provide crib notes or cheat sheets for users.”

“Thus, even a cursory review of the ‘sample questions’ Lee markets and sells makes clear they are not legitimate, independently-created practice examination questions, but, rather, a cheater’s roadmap into NBEO’s proprietary, copyrighted examinations,” the suit asserts.

According to the complaint, the NBEO confronted Lee about his online business after investigators it hired uncovered Lee’s role in the business. The website was shortly after taken down, the suit alleges, and other sites were scrubbed of Lee’s involvement.

The NBEO's suit includes counts against alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with a contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and copyright infringement,

It said it is suing Lee to not only recover unspecified monetary damages, but to enlist the help of the federal court in uncovering others Lee with whom Lee may have worked, as well as the customers to whom he sold the “sample questions” and related materials.

In its complaint, the NBEO is asking for an injunction against Lee and court orders requiring him to identify, within seven days, anyone from whom he obtained information about the NBEO tests and anyone to whom he sold the information.

The NBEO is being represented by Chicago attorneys Kevin Tottis, Rachel M. Vorbeck and Tiffany Lopez of TottisLaw, and New York attorney Jonathan E. Davis.

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