Recently, popular Southern California juice and aguas frescas chain Green Crush filed suit against up-and-coming rival juice bar Paradise Splash and several individuals. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges 16 claims including misappropriation of trade secrets, trademark infringement, and breach of contract.
On October 6, 2017, a federal jury in Utah entered a $2.1 million trade secret verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries USA. Following a trial that wrapped up more than four years of litigation, the jury concluded that defendant Leland Sycamore knowingly used the trade secret recipe for Grandma Sycamore’s bread in the production of rival Grandma Emilie’s bread for defendant US Bakery, despite the fact that he had previously sold the rights to Grandma Sycamore’s to Bimbo.
Bimbo filed suit in 2013, alleging that US Bakery had hired Sycamore to produce a new version of Grandma Emilie’s bread that relied on Bimbo’s trade secret method and used confusingly similar packaging to sell the bread to consumers.
Back in 1998, Sycamore sold the Grandma Sycamore’s brand, which had been in his family since the 1970s, to a predecessor of Bimbo. As part of this deal, Sycamore agreed to maintain the confidentiality of all associated manufacturing and assembly procedures, recipes and trade secrets.
Other than the fact that jury verdicts in trade secrets cases (or in any case, for that matter) are relatively rare, this case is notable for two reasons.
First, it explains what might qualify as a trade secret in the culinary arena, providing clarity in an area that, as we’ve observed, has long been plagued by confusion over what combination of IP protections and contractual agreements will protect valuable recipes. Applying Utah’s enactment of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting that, even if Bimbo’s purported trade secret contained known elements, Bimbo could establish a trade secret by showing that its compilation of known elements was “outside the general knowledge and not ascertainable by proper means.”
Second, this case is an interesting reminder that even though a secret process might originate within a business, that same business may face legal risks down the road for using the process if it has been licensed or sold to a third party with the appropriate safeguards to ensure confidentiality and the third party’s right to use the process.
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.
Imagine preparing for that big meeting on your way to work, while you ride along in your car—without the need for a driver. What sounds like it might be out of a sci-fi movie, may actually be the not-so-distant future. Such technology is at the center of the Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. litigation. The self-driving technology at issue hasn’t been the only intriguing part of this case–the litigation itself has been action packed, and we’ve been watching closely. As you’ll recall from previous posts, Waymo alleged that, while working at Waymo, its star engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company to start his own competing business, Ottomoto, which was later acquired by Uber. The twists and turns of this fast-paced litigation have included Uber’s denied petition for arbitration, Fifth Amendment invocations by Levandowski and his failed appeal, a criminal referral by Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California, and now an order granting a “limited” preliminary injunction blocking any participation of Levandowski in Uber’s self-driving car project. 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.
Virgin Galactic expanded and continued its attack on its former VP of Propulsion, Thomas Markusic, and his new company, Firefly Space Systems, this month. Markusic co-founded Firefly around the time he left Virgin Galactic, and the two companies compete in the market for rockets capable of launching small and medium sized satellites into lower earth orbit. As the demand for services from such satellites increases steadily; the race to provide a more cost effective method for delivering those satellites into space is also growing and becoming more competitive. 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
A recent development from the 3D printing world reminds us that threats of trade secret misappropriation are more varied than cyber-espionage or the disgruntled employee taking confidential information to a competitor. With exciting new technologies come “exciting” new ways to steal trade secrets. Sometimes all it takes to steal a secret is being a good listener. 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