Take off your eclipse glasses, close that NASA photo gallery, and stop thinking about how “path of totality” would make an awesome band name: it’s time to get back to work. As the country recovers from Eclipse Mania 2017, we take a look at some space-related trade secrets cases.
Someone might be stealing your trade secrets behind your back! A federal court found that’s what happened to Pacific Aerospace & Electronic, Inc. (PAE), a company that designs components for electronic circuitry in the aerospace and space exploration industries and whose products are used on the Hubble Telescope and the International Space Shuttle. According to PAE, the specialized nature of its business makes the identity of its customers—who are relatively few in number—critical to its business success. That’s why it was a problem when two PAE employees who had access to proprietary information about PAE’s technologies and customers left for a rival company, RAAD Technologies, Inc. One of the former employees allegedly copied backup tapes of design information weeks before leaving, and both employees allegedly compiled a list of prospective customers after leaving which they gave to RAAD’s sales representative for use in soliciting business. PAE brought a claim for misappropriation of trade secrets (among others) against these former employees and RAAD in the Western District of Washington, and moved for a preliminary injunction. The court ruled that PAE’s detailed customer information was a protectable trade secret, and that PAE risked irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction and would likely prevail on the merits of its misappropriation claim. However, the court limited the scope of injunctive relief only to future misuse of the trade secret customer list, rather than ongoing misuse—i.e., continued sales to wrongfully-acquired customers—as PAE had requested. The court reasoned that given the importance of PAE’s (and later RAAD’s) customers, public interest concerns favored permitting these ongoing business relationships and remedying any harm by an award of monetary damages.
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
In a dispute over ripped off recipes, counsel for victorious plaintiff Dalmatia Import Group hailed the jury verdict as the first of its kind under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, as we previously reported. Not so fast, sulked the defendants, Dalmatia’s erstwhile manufacturer Lancaster Fine Foods and distributor FoodMatch, in a filing this month. While acknowledging their defeat under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the defendants nevertheless urged the court not to enter judgment under the DTSA.
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
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.
The holiday season is officially upon us: peppermint mochas have popped up on coffee shop menus, carols ring from department store speakers, and you can’t turn on the television without seeing at least three diamond commercials. But it’s not all yuletide and merriment for those in the diamond business. As one diamond importer and wholesaler recently learned, sometimes instead of a gem you get a lump of coal—in this case, from the Northern District of California, which tossed out certain claims against a former business partner on the grounds those claims were preempted by the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act. READ MORE
To qualify as a trade secret under either the UTSA or the DTSA, the information in question must not be “readily ascertainable” through “proper means.” But what does “readily ascertainable” mean? If information is ascertainable by the public, but it would take some work to compile it, does that qualify as “readily ascertainable”? READ MORE
In Direct Technologies, LLC v. Electronic Arts, Inc., the Ninth Circuit set forth an interesting take on what is sufficient to demonstrate reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy under the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”). In the case, plaintiff Direct Technologies, LLC asserted a trade secret misappropriation claim against defendant Electronic Arts regarding the disclosure of its usb drive prototype for Electronic Arts to a third-party. The district court granted summary judgment for Electronic Arts, finding that no reasonable jury could find that Direct Technologies had taken reasonable efforts to maintain the confidentiality of its prototype. READ MORE
Hollywood’s heavy-hitters often enter the ring over unauthorized biographies. Elizabeth Taylor famously invoked her rights of publicity and privacy in an attempt to shut down an unofficial docudrama about her life; Clint Eastwood sued the author and publisher of his unsanctioned biography for libel; and a film production company brought claims for copyright and trademark infringement against the producers of the biopic Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried. Hollywood’s newest matchup involves misappropriation of trade secrets, a growing concern in the entertainment industry, especially after the recent Sony hack. READ MORE
With stories of cyberattacks and data breaches on a seemingly endless loop, businesses and governments have been doubling down on their efforts to protect digital information and assets. But, in some industries, the greatest threat might still be a pair of quick hands. For instance, in the restaurant industry, opening the kitchen doors to a new employee creates real risks. As we’ve discussed, sometimes the decision whether to print or download can have major legal ramifications. And with computer forensics technology growing in leaps and bounds, sometimes an old-school paper trail might be more enticing to would-be perps than a digital one. That said, the FBI has a track record of turning up bags of shredded documents in grocery store dumpsters. READ MORE