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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Last November, we discussed the potential impact of a recent California appellate court decision, AMN Healthcare, Inc. v. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc., 28 Cal. App. 5th 923 (2018), which called into question long-standing California precedent enforcing certain employee non-solicitation provisions. However, we noted it was too soon to forecast the implications of that case.
Though it is still early, it appears the tide may be turning, as a California federal district court recently issued a decision that relied upon AMN’s holding and found that the employee non-solicitation provision in the plaintiff’s contract was unenforceable under California law.
Employers in many industries use non-compete agreements as a key tool to protect trade secrets. According to U.S. Treasury reports, non-compete agreements impact approximately 30 million – nearly one in five – U.S. workers, including roughly one in six workers without a college degree.
Some employers have imposed non-compete agreements across a broad segment of their workforce, including imposing them on low-wage earning employees and employees who are not privy to trade secrets or other confidential information. Non-compete agreement opponents argue that such broad non-compete agreements can interfere with the employee’s right to make a living without any off-setting benefit for the employer. In the past few years, state attorneys general have been successfully suing companies to invalidate what many see as overly-expansive non-compete agreements.