As reported by Trade Secrets Watch last month, several states (including Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island) recently passed legislation curtailing the use of non-compete agreements. Now, the federal government wants in on the action.
In August 2019, federal prosecutors indicted Feng Tao, a Chinese scientist conducting research at the University of Kansas, on fraud charges. The indictment may not appear notable at first glance. But when viewed against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s escalating trade war and the Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” the facts underlying this prosecution may tell a deeper story.
As part of its China Initiative—a program announced in November 2018 to combat state-sponsored intellectual property theft—the DOJ set out to develop an enforcement strategy concerning universities and research laboratories. These institutions are considered particularly vulnerable targets of Chinese espionage because of their status as recruiters of foreign talent and incubators of state-of-the-art technology. The FBI has since begun scrutinizing universities’ ties to China, reaching out to schools around the country to curb the threat of technology and trade secret theft posed by researchers tapped by the Chinese government. READ MORE
Imagine the following scenario: Your company has filed several lawsuits around the world, all concerning generally the same subject matter, but against different parties because of jurisdictional limitations. The litigation overseas is subject to discovery rules that are far more limited than those available in the United States. The U.S. litigation has been stayed pending the result of the foreign matter. However, important information and witnesses that are useful in prosecuting the foreign litigation are located in the U.S., outside of the foreign court’s jurisdiction and applicable discovery rules. In this complex situation, is there any way to obtain that critical bit of information? Or can the U.S. witnesses evade all production and testimony because of jurisdictional bounds? READ MORE
After a weeklong June trial, a Texas federal jury awarded Six Dimensions, Inc. (“Six Dimensions”), a digital marketing firm, $287,000 for its breach-of-contract claim against its former employee but rejected its behemoth $50 million claim for trade secret misappropriation against its competitor, Perficient Inc. (“Perficient”). READ MORE
On Wednesday, a federal jury in the Eastern District of Texas declined to award any damages to Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s largest telecommunications company, stemming from its allegations of trade secret theft, employee poaching, and restrictive covenant violations against former employee Yiren Ronnie Huang (“Huang”) and startup CNEX Labs, Inc. (“CNEX”). Huang and CNEX, in turn, asserted counterclaims of trade secret theft against Huawei. Although the jury found Huang violated his post-employment obligations to Huawei and that Huawei misappropriated CNEX’s trade secrets, the jury did not award damages to either party. The verdict came after a contentious three-week trial before Judge Amos Mazzant on the parties’ dueling trade secret claims.
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.
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.
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
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