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Posts by: Christina Von der Ahe

Trade Secret Misappropriation in the World of Driverless Cars: Google versus Uber

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.

Don’t Friend My Friends: Nonsolicitation Agreements Should Account for Social Media Strategies

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

One of Obama Administration’s Final Mandates: Non-Competes Should Be The Exception, Not The Rule

With all the hubbub over the Presidential election, it would not be hard to overlook some of the Obama administration’s final moves. Recently, the White House issued a call to action to state legislators to ban non-compete agreements for most classes of workers. In an era where even sandwich makers can be bound to a non-compete agreement, the White House is concerned about the overuse of non-compete agreements and the potential stifling effect of these agreements across the economy. According to the White House, 20 percent of U.S. workers are bound by non-compete agreements, including 14 percent of those earning less than $40,000 per year. READ MORE

Government Involvement in Noncompetes… Against a Sandwich Maker?! Jimmy John’s Slapped With Another Lawsuit, This Time Brought by the Illinois Attorney General

Jimmy John’s can’t seem to escape the limelight. Last year, the company made headlines (discussed here) when employees hit it with a putative class action lawsuit seeking to invalidate their non-compete agreements. The District Court determined that the employees did not have standing to pursue their claims, and never reached the issue of whether the non-competes were valid. Just last month, the Illinois Attorney General filed suit against Jimmy John’s over the same non-compete agreements.  READ MORE

Get Off My Cloud: “BYOC” Workplaces Pose Trade Secrets Risks

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about “BYOD” (“Bring Your Own Device”) policies, which are becoming increasingly common in the workplace. Employees want the flexibility and ease that comes with being able to use a personal device for work purposes, but employers have long been warned about risks to information security and other perils that come with the territory. Employers take on a separate and distinct set of risks when employees use personal cloud storage services at work—an increasing trend that’s been dubbed “Bring Your Own Cloud” or “BYOC.”  READ MORE

First Foreign Hacker Is Convicted In The United States Of Hacking Crimes Involving Theft Of Trade Secrets From American Companies

A 22-year-old Canadian hacker has been sentenced to federal prison by a Delaware court for engaging in a conspiracy to break into the computer networks of several large gaming companies, to steal trade secret and other information related to unreleased products, and to commit criminal copyright infringement.  According to the Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, David Pokora of Ontario, sentenced last Thursday was “a leading member in an international computer hacking ring . . . that committed numerous unlawful intrusions into the computer networks of various technology companies involved in the $22 billion-dollar video gaming industry.”  The conspiracy’s victims included Microsoft, Epic Games (which develops the highly popular “Gears of War” series), and Activision Blizzard (which published, among many other successful games, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”). READ MORE

To Sue for Theft of Your Trade Secrets in California, You May First Have to Give Them Away

California trade secret litigators likely know all about California Code of Civil Procedure Section 2019.210.  Those that don’t, should.

Section 2019.210 provides that before commencing discovery in a trade secret litigation, the party alleging trade secret misappropriation must identify the allegedly stolen trade secret “with reasonable particularity.”

For plaintiffs, this rule is no joke.  It has sent many a plaintiff back to the drawing board trying, again and again, to adequately identify their stolen “special sauce.” It can be supremely frustrating. READ MORE

UNMASKING BLOGGERS: Hedge Fund’s Bid to Unveil Blogger’s Identity Highlights First Amendment, Trade Secrets Clash

America’s reverence for anonymous speech is as old as the republic itself, tracing its roots to Thomas Payne’s pamphlet “Common Sense” and the Federalist Papers.  But the right to speak namelessly has limits, and hedge fund billionaire David Einhorn recently demanded that a court unmask a blogger who anonymously disclosed confidential investment information.

Early last month, Greenlight Capital, Inc., Einhorn’s hedge fund, filed suit in New York state court against Seeking Alpha, Inc., a popular stock market blogging website.  In the suit, Greenlight asked the court to order Seeking Alpha to identify a blogger who anonymously exposed Greenlight’s stake in Micron Technology before Greenlight revealed it. READ MORE

UPDATE: Sur-Sur-Sur Reply Highlights the Short Arm of U.S. Law in Trade Secret Theft

A few months ago, we discussed the federal government’s difficulties prosecuting foreign companies and individuals for theft of U.S. trade secrets.  We highlighted three cases in which foreign defendants effectively stalled their criminal prosecutions by challenging the government’s attempts to serve them abroad.  These cases raise the concern that complicated U.S. procedural rules are getting in the way of the government’s efforts to protect the nation from cybertheft, and allowing foreign defendants to violate U.S. law with impunity.

Since our original post, we’ve checked the dockets and have an update on what’s been going on with these criminal prosecutions.  And the answer is — READ MORE

Trade Secrets Act Preemption – It’s Still a Mess

In 1979, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) was published in an attempt to provide a uniform legal framework for improved trade secret protection across all 50 U.S. states.  Although the UTSA has been enacted in various forms by 48 states, courts have taken inconsistent positions about whether the UTSA preempts claims for misappropriation of non-trade secret information.

On August 9, 2013, a district court in Minnesota ruled that a state law claim for conversion was preempted by Minnesota’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“MUTSA”).  The court held that MUTSA displaced “conflicting tort, restitutionary”, and other state laws “providing civil remedies for misappropriation of a trade secret.” The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s conversion claim was preempted because it was based on factual allegations that were identical to the plaintiff’s MUTSA claim.  In reaching its decision, the court noted that plaintiff did not allege the conversion or misappropriation of any information that was not also alleged to be a trade secret.

In ruling in this limited way, the Minnesota court avoided addressing a larger question that has recently been plaguing courts across the country: READ MORE