When we think about trade secrets, we usually focus on keeping our own data safe. But an even bigger risk comes from hiring employees who can infect our systems with confidential information from a competitor. Companies often learn this the hard way. Boeing’s hiring several managers from Lockheed led to a $615 million fine and indictments of the individuals. Hilton poached two Starwood executives to create a competing hotel brand, but they came with thousands of documents and prompted a lawsuit that killed the project and cost $150 million to settle. Recently, a similar situation at Zillow required a $130 million settlement. READ MORE
On Thursday, Waymo LLC sued Uber Technologies and Ottomotto LLC in federal court in the Northern District of California for: (1) violation of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act; (2) violation of California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act; (3) Patent Infringement; and (4) Violation of Section 17200 of California’s Business and Professions Code. Waymo is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. that specializes in self-driving cars.
According to Waymo’s complaint, one of its former managers, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary files shortly before his resignation in January 2016. Those files allegedly related, among other things, to Waymo’s proprietary LiDAR system, which, when mounted on a vehicle, “enable[s] a vehicle to ‘see’ its surroundings and thereby allow[s] a self-driving vehicle to detect traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists, and any other obstacles a vehicle must be able to see to drive safely.”
Waymo claims that it caught wind of the alleged misappropriation recently when one of its LiDAR component vendors inadvertently copied Waymo on an email depicting Uber’s LiDAR circuit board. According to Waymo, Uber’s LiDAR circuit board “bears a striking resemblance to Waymo’s own highly confidential and proprietary design and reflects Waymo trade secrets.”
Given the technology at issue and the players, this is a case that will be fascinating to watch. We’ll keep you posted.
As social media becomes an important part of many companies’ sales and branding strategies, issues relating to companies’ ability to protect their investments in such strategies are emerging. Indeed, this blog has previously covered whether LinkedIn contacts can qualify as trade secrets (answer: maybe). Another such issue, recently addressed in a district court in Idaho, is whether and to what extent a nonsolicitation agreement can restrict a former employee’s Facebook interactions with the former employer’s customers. READ MORE
A few months ago, Trade Secrets Watch covered the GlobeRanger Corp. case in which the Fifth Circuit joined 10 other circuits in determining that the Copyright Act does not preempt state trade secret misappropriation claims. The court used a two-prong test in its analysis, establishing that the Copyright Act could preempt a state law claim if two conditions are met: (1) if the work at issue fell within the subject matter of copyright; and (2) if the right that the litigant sought to protect was equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright. READ MORE
In recent years, the craft beer craze has taken ahold of the country and has resulted in an explosion of new microbreweries and enthusiasts. Several websites, like BeerSmith, allow users to share recipes with others; other websites, like BrewCraft, sell their recipes for home brewing. In fact, some craft beer aficionados have even created beer trading exchanges to secure their hard-to-find favorites. Even when a popular beer is discontinued, other microbrewers look to fill the void left on everyone’s taste buds with beers of their own. For instance, when Russian River’s legendary craft brew Pliny the Elder was pulled from certain markets, craft brew fans raced to find similarly tasting alternatives to quench their thirst.
On Monday, January 9, the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari from Sino Legend Chemical Co., Ltd., concluding litigation that began with a Section 337 complaint filed more than four‑and‑a‑half years ago by SI Group, Inc. In January 2014, the International Trade Commission found that Sino Legend, a Chinese company, misappropriated SI Group’s rubber resin trade secrets and issued an exclusion order, barring the importation of Sino Legend products made using these trade secrets for 10 years.
The TSW has extensively covered this case with posts on the ITC Administrative Law Judge’s Initial Determination, the Commission’s decision, the Federal Circuit’s Rule 36 affirmance, and Sino Legend’s cert petition.
The case attracted the attention of the Chinese government, which filed an amicus brief in support of Sino Legend’s cert petition—the first amicus brief ever filed by the Chinese government in the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Sino Legend. The Chinese Trade Remedy and Investigation Bureau (“TRB”), a branch of the Ministry of Commerce, forcefully argued that the Supreme Court should grant Sino Legend’s petition and reverse the ITC’s decision:
The TRB is disappointed by recent actions of the ITC. In wrongly interpreting Section 337 of the Tariff Act to allow the ITC to bar imports into the United States based on alleged actions conducted, and adjudicated, wholly within the borders of China, the ITC has impugned the sovereignty of China and refused to accord the comity expected of a trade partner.
TRB Brief at 2.
The TRB criticized the ITC’s “expansion” of the Federal Circuit’s TianRui decision “to bar products from entering the United States for conduct that not only occurred completely within China’s borders by Chinese citizens working at Chinese companies, but also conduct that was adjudicated in China to have been lawful.” (Id. at 1.) Citing Judge Moore’s dissent, Sino Legend’s petition also criticized TianRui as incompatible with the presumption against extraterritorial application of federal statutes.
The Supreme Court’s denial of Sino Legend’s petition for certiorari is significant because it appears to cement the extraterritorial reach of Section 337 inasmuch as the offending conduct relates to products that are imported into the United States. Thus, the ITC remains a powerful forum for companies with significant operations in the United States to seek redress for misappropriation of trade secrets. Read more broadly, TianRui and its progeny may provide the ITC with the authority to investigate other types of “unfair acts” that occur outside the United States, provided—again—that those acts pertain to products that are imported into the United States.
The ITC Investigation was captioned Certain Rubber Resins and Processes for Manufacturing Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-849.
The Supreme Court docket was captioned Sino Legend (Zhangjiagang) Chem. Co. Ltd. et al. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n et al., No. 16-428.
Within days of each other, your clothing company―Free Country Ltd.―loses two employees who decamp to a rival to set up a competing apparel line. You discover that just before leaving, they transferred some 50,000 documents to a personal account—customer orders, your master contact list, and product design information. Incensed, you file a trade secrets lawsuit and seek an injunction prohibiting the thieves from soliciting your customers. Their defense amounts to, “so what if we took the documents―it’s a free country!” Easy win, right? Wrong. These are the facts of a recent trade secrets lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, in which the court denied the plaintiff’s request that its former employee defendants be prohibited from soliciting plaintiff’s customers. READ MORE
If you are a regular reader of TSW, you know we have been monitoring developments relating to the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA). While the Northern District of California was the first court to enter a written opinion under the DTSA, case law is continuing to develop across the country, including in the First Circuit. READ MORE
A recent case in the Southern District of Florida serves as a reminder that even trade secrets may be subject to production to opposing counsel. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman recently ordered a defendant “swingers’” club to produce its email distribution list to plaintiffs in Edmonson v. Velvet Lifestyles, LLC (S.D. Fla. Dec. 5, 2016). READ MORE
After a long political season that took many twists and turns due in part to revelations from WikiLeaks, the holiday season finally arrived. For many, that meant family traditions, time away from work, and massive amounts of college football, thanks to the current litany of televised bowl games.