Employee Misappropriation

Courts Continue to Enforce Foreign Non-Competes in California While the Window for Such Agreements Slowly Closes

Contrary to common perception, California employees who signed restrictive covenants prior to January 1, 2017 are not completely immune to enforcement of all restrictions on competition. For the second time in several years, a foreign corporation, Synthes, Inc., successfully enforced a non-competition agreement against former employees who were California residents. In the most recent case, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, enforced the company’s agreement against a Sacramento resident. READ MORE

Pooley’s Corner: Was America’s Industrial Revolution Based on Trade Secret Theft?

When I was in Geneva trying to engage developing countries about the value of robust IP laws, occasionally I heard a response like this: “What hypocrites you are! The U.S. economy got its start by stealing from abroad. Why should today’s poor nations be denied the same opportunity to catch up?” The argument stung enough that I thought I should check out the real story. Here’s what I found.

On an early September day in 1789, Samuel Slater, 21 years old, boarded a ship in London to begin a voyage to New York. His family didn’t know he was doing this. He presented himself as a simple laborer, a farm hand. He was lying. Hidden in his pocket were his only official papers, identifying him as a recently released apprentice to a cotton mill. READ MORE

Above the Clouds: Jeweler’s Trade Secret Spat Highlights Risk of Employee-Controlled Cloud Storage

Rendering of a Cloud computing, Cloud Computing Concept Above the Clouds: Jeweler’s Trade Secret Spat Highlights Risk of Employee-Controlled Cloud Storage

We have discussed before the importance of maintaining internal policies and procedures to protect the security and integrity of cloud-based repositories. A recent case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland illustrates that this continues to be an important issue—particularly for companies who store their crown jewels on the cloud.

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Pooley’s Corner: What Divorce Court Teaches About Trade Secret Litigation

I still remember the day I decided never to do another divorce case. My client called to tell me that her ex was taking the kids to his mother’s house where she would look for holes in their socks and then rip them with her fingers. This surely was grounds for a restraining order! No, it wasn’t, I insisted.

Back then we accepted any kind of case that involved a courtroom: accidents, real estate, criminal, contracts, and “domestic relations.” It was the divorces that often involved the worst behaviors, seeming to require more therapy than legal advice.

These were also the early days of Silicon Valley, and it wasn’t long before commercial litigation, and trade secret cases in particular, came to fill up my calendar. Hardly a week went by without a group leaving to do a start-up or join the competition, provoking a lawsuit. After 30 or 40 of these, a common theme emerged: somebody always had done something foolish, like overheating the photocopier or bragging about how they were going to destroy their old employer. So it seemed to me that if people just understood the rules, they would never get into these scrapes. But the same kinds of mistakes were made even by experienced, sophisticated actors, and the lawsuits kept coming. I was baffled.

Then I married Laura-Jean, who is a psychotherapist. When she learned about my trade secret cases, it was immediately clear to her what was going on. These people were distracted—and sometimes blinded—by their emotions. And that’s when it hit me: trade secret disputes were a lot like divorces, and if you could understand the emotional forces at work, you could do a better job for your clients. The analogy wasn’t perfect, because people choosing to end their marriages were often consumed by their feelings to a level that didn’t usually apply in a business context. But the parallels were striking, and illuminating. READ MORE

ECONOMIC ESPIONAGE AND PROTECTING TRADE SECRETS: Ninth Circuit Holds That Reasonable Measures to Guard Technology are Sufficient

How can you protect your trade secrets from a vast and well-concealed international effort to steal those secrets? What constitutes a “reasonable” effort to protect that information where at least one competitor may already have the information?  The Ninth Circuit recently opined on these matters in the ongoing saga of U.S. v. Liew.

In 2014, Walter Liew and his company, USA Performance Technology, Inc., were convicted of multiple offenses, including claims under the Economic Espionage Act and conveying misappropriated trade secrets to a third party. The trade secrets related to DuPont’s technology for producing titanium dioxide, which is used in a wide range of products such as paint and Oreo cookies. READ MORE

ROADBLOCK IN PLACE: Court Grants Limited Preliminary Injunction in Waymo v. Uber

Imagine preparing for that big meeting on your way to work, while you ride along in your car—without the need for a driver. What sounds like it might be out of a sci-fi movie, may actually be the not-so-distant future.  Such technology is at the center of the Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. litigation. The self-driving technology at issue hasn’t been the only intriguing part of this case–the litigation itself has been action packed, and we’ve been watching closely. As you’ll recall from previous posts, Waymo alleged that, while working at Waymo, its star engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company to start his own competing business, Ottomoto, which was later acquired by Uber.  The twists and turns of this fast-paced litigation have included Uber’s denied petition for arbitration, Fifth Amendment invocations by Levandowski and his failed appeal, a criminal referral by Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California, and now an order granting a “limited” preliminary injunction blocking any participation of Levandowski in Uber’s self-driving car project. READ MORE

The Saga Continues: New York’s Highest Court Will Weigh in on Aleynikov’s Fate

On April 20, 2017, the New York Court of Appeals issued a brief order continuing former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov’s eight-year voyage through the state’s and country’s legal systems.  Here’s the issue:  does making a digital copy of misappropriated source code instead of physical copy constitute a “tangible reproduction or representation” of the source code?   READ MORE

Nice Try: Federal Circuit Denies Uber Engineer’s Writ, Affirming the District Court

In trade secret cases, it is often the case that a defendant company and employee accused of trade secret misappropriation enter into a joint defense agreement.  Often under such JDAs, facts, strategies and documents are shared with the understanding that they will remain confidential. READ MORE

Growing Small Satellite Market Spawning Litigation

Virgin Galactic expanded and continued its attack on its former VP of Propulsion, Thomas Markusic, and his new company, Firefly Space Systems, this month. Markusic co-founded Firefly around the time he left Virgin Galactic, and the two companies compete in the market for rockets capable of launching small and medium sized satellites into lower earth orbit. As the demand for services from such satellites increases steadily; the race to provide a more cost effective method for delivering those satellites into space is also growing and becoming more competitive. READ MORE

“Gist of Action” Doctrine: Don’t Contract Away Your Misappropriation Claim

The “gist of action” doctrine. Heard of it? Well, if you are dealing with Pennsylvania law, you need to know it. The “gist of action” doctrine asks whether the “gist” of a suit sounds in tort or contract. When applied to a claim of trade secret misappropriation, the doctrine questions whether the wrongful acts constitute a tort or a breach of contract. If the wrongful acts constitute a breach of contract, Pennsylvania law bars any trade secret claim. As evidenced by the case Wiggins v. Physiologic Assessment Services, LLC, whether a claim can be brought as a trade secret claim or a breach of contract claim can turn on the wording of the contract at issue. READ MORE