Making Memories: Trade Secrets Need Not Be in Tangible Form to Be Protectable

Developments in technology have led to advanced ways of protecting trade secrets. In an age where passwords, metadata, and paper trails are often the stories told to demonstrate misappropriation, it may seem that trade secrets must be reduced to a tangible form to be protected. However, a recent Oregon Court of Appeals opinion reminds us that this is not the case—if information is maintained as a trade secret it is equally protected regardless of form. READ MORE

Mandatory Reminder: Oregon Subjects Non-Competes to Additional Requirement

Oregon recently enacted HB2992, further limiting its already restrictive non-compete law, which will apply to any agreements entered on or after January 1, 2020.  The new law amends Oregon’s prior non-compete law by requiring the employer, as a condition of the non-compete’ s enforceability, to provide a signed, written copy of the terms of the non-compete agreement to the employee within thirty days of the termination of employment.  This is effectively a mandatory reminder, as Oregon’s non-compete law already required the employer to inform the employee at the outset of employment of the non-compete agreement, either two weeks prior to the employee’s first day of employment or as part of a bona fide advancement of the employee.  Oregon’s non-compete law also already required that the employee be in an “administrative, executive, or professional” position and have access to trade secrets, other competitively sensitive information, or be “on-air” talent subject to other restrictions.

Oregon’s state legislature thus created a new hoop for employers to jump through before it can subject a limited subset of employees to non-competes.  Oregon’s mandatory reminder at the end of an employee’s employment, and not just at the beginning, further aligns its non-compete law with one of the Obama administration’s final mandates for state legislators to improve the transparency and fairness of non-competes.

Tariff Chess Match Escalates Between China and the United States

Trade Secrets Watch has been covering the escalating economic tension between China and the U.S., including the U.S. Trade Representative’s investigation on China’s alleged IP theft under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, dueling imposition of tariffs in March 2018, and the USTR announcement of products against which it proposed to impose 25 percent import duties. READ MORE

Spring Cleaning: Tidying Up Your “Reasonable Efforts” to Maintain Trade Secrets

It’s among an in-house counsel’s worst nightmares. A former business partner, ex-employee, consultant, or competitor has stolen your company’s trade secret information. Company management demands swift action. You hire outside counsel who, after reviewing your company policies and interviewing stakeholders, tells you that he or she is concerned about being able to establish that your company took “reasonable efforts” to protect the information. Listening to the feedback, you realize with a sinking feeling that these were steps that you, as in-house counsel, may have been able to implement if you had only thought about the issue sooner. READ MORE

Race to the Finish: Autonomous Vehicle Technology at the Forefront of Alleged Trade Secrets Theft

The stakes couldn’t be higher in the race amongst Silicon Valley self-driving companies vying to be the first to bring the industry-changing technology to market.  With competition so steep, and the potential value counted in the trillions, the efforts to protect this technology have given rise to frequent trade secrets theft disputes.

In the most recent instance of alleged autonomous vehicle technology trade secret theft, a federal district court judge ordered the former director of hardware of WeRide Corp., Kun Huang, to return all files he allegedly downloaded from WeRide before his departure in 2018.  WeRide formerly credited Huang with its success in becoming the fastest autonomous vehicle company to complete its first public road test.  Now, WeRide alleges Huang copied confidential information from a company shared-laptop, deleted files from the laptop, cleared its web browsing history, and then erased the hard drive on his WeRide-issued personal MacBook.  Shortly thereafter, Huang began working at Zhong Zhi Xing Technology Co., Ltd. (ZZX), another defendant in the case, which WeRide alleges was founded by its former CEO, Jing Wang, also named as a defendant.

Based on these allegations, the Court granted WeRide a preliminary injunction against Huang and his new companies, ZZX and a related entity AllRide.AI, Inc., barring these parties from using or sharing WeRide’s trade secrets and requiring them to return all WeRide materials within four days of the order.

This case is but one of many recent trade secret disputes amongst Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle technology companies.  And with autonomous vehicle employee turnover high and trillions of dollars at stake, we expect to see many more trade secret disputes arise.

RICO Killer: DTSA Non-Retroactivity Wipes Out Racketeering Claim Based on Trade Secret Theft

On May 11, 2016, the U.S. Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) created a federal remedy for trade secret misappropriation and added trade secret theft as an act that can form a predicate for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations.  Since the DTSA’s enactment, a number of courts have held that the DTSA does not apply retroactively to misappropriation occurring prior to enactment unless there is continuing use (i.e., an act constituting misappropriation after the DTSA’s enactment despite the acquisition occurring pre-enactment).  Recently, a court in the Northern District of California found the same to be true for RICO claims predicated upon misappropriation occurring prior to the DTSA’s enactment.  In Eli Attia v. Google, the court dismissed with prejudice plaintiff’s fifth amended complaint alleging RICO violations based on criminal trade secret theft and misappropriation that occurred in 2011 and 2012. READ MORE

Third Circuit: Spying on Former Employee’s Social Media Account Does Not Constitute “Unclean Hands” to Bar Trade Secret Misappropriation Claim

Consider this: a former employee has just left his or her employer and may have taken trade secrets to a competitor.  Can the employer log in to that former employee’s personal social media account to search for potentially incriminating evidence?  For most employers, the answer may be “no,” as doing so may be unlawful or at a minimum, may constitute “unclean hands” (a doctrine barring equitable relief when the party seeking the relief has committed misconduct related to the claims at issue) possibly jeopardizing the employer’s trade secret misappropriation (and other claims) against the former employee. READ MORE

FOIA Exemption 4 Tightens the Spigot on Public Disclosure of Bottled Water Sourcing Records

The Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) grants the public a powerful right of access to records in the possession of federal agencies.  However, this right of access is subject to nine distinct exemptions.  As demonstrated by D.C. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden’s opinion in Story of Stuff Project v. United States Forest Service, it is relatively easy for the federal government to withhold records under Exemption 4 which protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person” which are “privileged or confidential.”  5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4). READ MORE

“Aloha” to Federal Jurisdiction Over Trade Secrets Claims

As two recent cases show, how one pleads its case under the Defend Trade Secrets Act can be the difference between whether “aloha” means hello or goodbye to federal jurisdiction.

A district court in Hawaii recently dismissed a plaintiff’s claim under the DTSA because it failed to establish subject matter jurisdiction.  In that case, DLMC, Inc., a health care service provider for elderly and infirm residents of Hawaii, accused a former employee of stealing client lists.  The cause of action under the DTSA was the only federal claim in the complaint and, therefore, the only basis for federal jurisdiction.  However, to plead a cause of action under the DTSA, the trade secret must be “related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.”  The only argument DLMC made as to this required nexus was that its clients “have federal patient identification numbers so as to allow for their receipt of federal funds for the services provided to them by [DLMC].”  DLMC also argued that because it was an entity whose very existence relies on and is conditioned upon federal application, certification and approval,” its services “are subject to federal law….”  Neither of these arguments persuaded the court as they both failed to show whether and how the alleged trade secrets themselves (as opposed to DLMC’s business generally) related to interstate commerce.  The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, however, with leave for DLMC to amend its complaint to allege a DTSA (or other federal) claim. READ MORE

Senate Judiciary Committee Creates IP Subcommittee to Combat IP Theft

Last week, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee announced the creation of a new subcommittee on intellectual property.  The IP subcommittee will address a range of IP issues, including theft by state actors such as China.  The announcement of the subcommittee comes in the wake of increasing tension over trade with China and shortly after the Department of Justice announced criminal charges against China’s Huawei Technologies for alleged trade secrets theft. READ MORE