In the recent lawsuit filed against Uber by Waymo for hiring the head of its driverless car project, what would have been a normal discovery dispute over access to a report suddenly became a lot more complicated when the former Waymo executive asserted the fifth amendment, claiming that forcing disclosure of the document could incriminate him.
Trade secret litigation between companies is common, but criminal charges—or the threat of them—isn’t. So how is it that commercial disputes become criminal?
The answer usually is that the trade secret holder believes it has very strong evidence of theft and decides to approach the authorities. If you are located in a state with criminal trade secret laws, you have a choice of reporting to the county prosecutor or going to the FBI or Department of Justice, who operate under the authority of the Economic Espionage Act. In a number of states, and in each of the 93 federal districts, there will be prosecutors and investigators trained in handling technology cases. If yours seems sufficiently serious, they may agree to take it on.
But would you want them to? The answer may not be obvious. READ MORE
During a recent seminar I was asked, “What can companies do to stop the loss of trade secrets to places like China?” The questioner seemed stressed and a bit angry, perhaps reflecting a certain frustration that there may not really be an answer. Although there is no way to entirely eliminate information security risks when doing business overseas, we certainly can reduce them.
The modern commercial environment is inescapably digital and global. Long supply chains and open innovation strategies require sharing valuable information with actors in countries where legal protection systems are not robust. Companies increasingly employ foreign nationals, both in the United States and in installations abroad, and just like any other employees with knowledge of your secrets, they tend to move about. READ MORE
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
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.
What happens when trade secret protections collide with laws granting public access to government records? This question took center stage in a recent case involving the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”). A federal district court enjoined the SPD from disclosing a software vendor’s allegedly trade secret information in response to a reporter’s public records act request. Besides serving as a reminder of the precautions that companies should take when disclosing intellectual property to public agencies, the case also raises interesting questions and strategic considerations. READ MORE
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
Intellectual property owners may seek to protect certain information either by obtaining a patent or by maintaining its secrecy. A patent provides strong, exclusive rights for a fixed period of time, generally twenty years. A trade secret may last indefinitely but protection can be lost through independent development, reverse engineering, or failure to maintain secrecy. (We previously published a chart comparing the features of patents and trade secrets.) This article discusses those instances when trade secret protection may be superior to patent protection. READ MORE
In a tale of alleged betrayal and misappropriation of trade secrets in a courtroom (not) far, far away, a pioneering company in the area of special effects has sued its former employees and a vendor, claiming that they conspired to recreate the company’s primary business under a new name, erasing the evidence on the way out. The alleged tale is an illustration of how vulnerable a company and its trade secrets can be in times of ownership and business transition, especially when the company relies mostly on a single customer. READ MORE
How can trade secret misappropriation disputes be litigated in Chinese courts, despite the system’s lack of US-style discovery tools? Many companies, especially foreign companies, might be hesitant to even think about bringing trade secret misappropriation actions in China for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly, based on concerns over how to collect evidence. READ MORE
Last week, the Texas Supreme Court provided its first opinion interpreting the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act in a case involving an issue that often causes discomfort to lawyers on both sides of the “v” in trade secret misappropriation cases: how much of their trade secrets do plaintiffs have to disclose to enable the defendant to adequately defend itself? The opinion in In re M-I L.L.C. d/b/a M-I Swaco, 2016 WL 2981342 (Tex., May 20, 2016) demonstrates this tension. READ MORE