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
On September 13, the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on an issue of first impression in Anheuser-Busch Cos. v. James Clark, No. 17-15591 (9th Cir. 2015).
Anheuser-Busch filed a complaint in the Eastern District of California against former employee James Clark, alleging that he violated California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA) by unlawfully disseminating a document containing its beer recipe for use in a separate class action suit. To support its allegations, the company submitted a declaration stating that the leaked document contained “confidential information related to Plaintiffs’ brewing processes, including but not limited to, information regarding a variety of analytical characteristics for each of [Plaintiffs’] products.” READ MORE
The Federal Circuit recently issued an opinion, Texas Advanced Optoelectronic Solutions, Inc. v. Renesas Electronics America, Inc., that addressed several interesting issues impacting the calculation of damages in trade secret actions. Perhaps the Court of Appeals’ ruling of greatest consequence involved its determination that there is no Seventh Amendment right to a jury decision on disgorgement of profits – a remedy also often commonly described as “unjust enrichment.” The Federal Circuit instead ruled that the calculation of disgorgement damages is for the trial court to decide after making findings of fact and conclusions of law. If the decision is extended by other federal courts, it could have wide-reaching implications for claims under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which allows for unjust enrichment damages as a remedy for misappropriation of trade secrets. READ MORE
Plaintiffs in New York state trade secret actions face a new limitation on their damages claims, according to a May 3, 2018 decision from the state’s Court of Appeals. The 4-3 opinion settles a split in New York state case law. Going forward, compensatory damages for trade secrets misappropriation are limited to the amount actually lost by the plaintiff, and cannot extend to the “hypothetical” amount saved by the alleged infringer on research or development. READ MORE
Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hassel v. Bird, a case we’ve discussed previously because it involves critical issues related to anonymous online speech and trade secrets protection. As promised, we’ll have more coverage once the court renders its decision.
In the meantime, take a look at this recent Law360 Expert Analysis (subscription required). In it, TSW co-editor-in-chief Mike Weil reports that the arguments in Hassel took place before a “hot bench” and provides an in-depth analysis of the case law in this area.
On Tuesday, April 3, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments in Hassel v. Bird. Case No. S235968. While seemingly a defamation case, it has direct implications on trade secrets owners and the rights of internet publishers.
In that case, a lawyer, Dawn Hassell, sued her former client, Ava Bird, for defamation in California state court because of a negative Yelp review. 247 Cal. App. 4th 1336 (2016). Bird never responded to the lawsuit, so the trial court entered a default judgment in Hassell’s favor. The court ordered Bird and Yelp to remove her the reviews, even though Yelp was not a party to the lawsuit. Yelp appealed on numerous grounds, including that (1) the court denied Yelp due process because Yelp wasn’t a party; (2) the order was an improper prior restraint; and (3) Yelp had immunity under the Communications Decency Act. The court of appeal rejected all of these arguments.
This fight between the rights of internet publishers and those allegedly aggrieved by third parties who post information or statements on the publishers’ websites is an ongoing battle. While often fought in the defamation space, many of these disputes involve trade secrets owners who claim others, including former employees, posted trade secrets on an internet publisher’s site. See, e.g., Glassdoor, Inc. v. Superior Court, 9 Cal. App. 5th 623 (2017). The Hassell case will have direct impact on this ongoing battle. If upheld, it will create a potential roadmap for trade secrets owners to take down offending content published on the internet. For the internet publishers, it creates a serious headache because it allows plaintiffs to sidestep the publisher’s right to defend against an injunction.
Trade Secrets Watch will monitor the oral argument and report back.
In every trade secrets case, the plaintiff faces the same fundamental dilemma: In order to enforce their rights in court, they must identify (at least to some degree) the trade secrets at issue. Although California has adopted a reasonable particularity requirement by statute, how much detail plaintiffs must provide when identifying their trade secrets in litigation continues to vary state-by-state. The answer is no clearer under federal law, as the Defend Trade Secrets Act is silent as to this issue.
Notwithstanding, the level of particularity required is an ongoing issue that courts continue to grapple with. For example, Texas’s highest court may weigh in for the first time on the degree of specificity plaintiffs must provide when identifying trade secrets allegedly misappropriated under the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA). READ MORE
Just over four years ago, in January 2014, a court sentenced former Korn/Ferry regional director David Nosal to one year and one day in prison for violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Espionage Act. Nosal appealed the sentence, but his appeals ultimately failed: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Nosal’s sentence, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case. Luckily for Nosal, his 2014 motion for release pending appeal was granted, so he has not served any time during the four years of appeals. READ MORE
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
On Monday, January 9, the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari from Sino Legend Chemical Co., Ltd., concluding litigation that began with a Section 337 complaint filed more than four‑and‑a‑half years ago by SI Group, Inc. In January 2014, the International Trade Commission found that Sino Legend, a Chinese company, misappropriated SI Group’s rubber resin trade secrets and issued an exclusion order, barring the importation of Sino Legend products made using these trade secrets for 10 years.
The TSW has extensively covered this case with posts on the ITC Administrative Law Judge’s Initial Determination, the Commission’s decision, the Federal Circuit’s Rule 36 affirmance, and Sino Legend’s cert petition.
The case attracted the attention of the Chinese government, which filed an amicus brief in support of Sino Legend’s cert petition—the first amicus brief ever filed by the Chinese government in the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Sino Legend. The Chinese Trade Remedy and Investigation Bureau (“TRB”), a branch of the Ministry of Commerce, forcefully argued that the Supreme Court should grant Sino Legend’s petition and reverse the ITC’s decision:
The TRB is disappointed by recent actions of the ITC. In wrongly interpreting Section 337 of the Tariff Act to allow the ITC to bar imports into the United States based on alleged actions conducted, and adjudicated, wholly within the borders of China, the ITC has impugned the sovereignty of China and refused to accord the comity expected of a trade partner.
TRB Brief at 2.
The TRB criticized the ITC’s “expansion” of the Federal Circuit’s TianRui decision “to bar products from entering the United States for conduct that not only occurred completely within China’s borders by Chinese citizens working at Chinese companies, but also conduct that was adjudicated in China to have been lawful.” (Id. at 1.) Citing Judge Moore’s dissent, Sino Legend’s petition also criticized TianRui as incompatible with the presumption against extraterritorial application of federal statutes.
The Supreme Court’s denial of Sino Legend’s petition for certiorari is significant because it appears to cement the extraterritorial reach of Section 337 inasmuch as the offending conduct relates to products that are imported into the United States. Thus, the ITC remains a powerful forum for companies with significant operations in the United States to seek redress for misappropriation of trade secrets. Read more broadly, TianRui and its progeny may provide the ITC with the authority to investigate other types of “unfair acts” that occur outside the United States, provided—again—that those acts pertain to products that are imported into the United States.
The ITC Investigation was captioned Certain Rubber Resins and Processes for Manufacturing Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-849.
The Supreme Court docket was captioned Sino Legend (Zhangjiagang) Chem. Co. Ltd. et al. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n et al., No. 16-428.