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
“Bad Artists Copy. Good Artists Steal” – Pablo Picasso
In the small world of exclusive and upscale art sales, competing galleries inevitably form and maintain relationships with one another. This is the case for Lévy Gorvey gallery partner Dominque Lévy, and Lehmann Maupin Group co-founder Rachel Lehmann, who have known each other for over 20 years. Now, Lehmann Maupin is involved in a trade secrets fight with their former sales director, Bona Yoo, who is currently employed by Lévy Gorvey. In this tightknit artist’s community, the news of a trade secrets lawsuit against a former employee is admittedly more shocking than the typical Silicon Valley trade secret theft story, where employees leave for competitor companies as frequently as they come. But it should not be surprising that trade secrets in the art industry are just as valuable to their owners as they are to tech industry leaders—because in both worlds, client relationships are key.
That’s why Lehmann Maupin Group is not taking lightly their suspicion that their former sales director destroyed company trade secrets and stole client information upon her departure to a competing gallery. According to the complaint, when Bona Yoo left Lehmann Maupin to join Lévy Gorvey last fall, she copied files containing valuable trade secrets and “maliciously corrupted” or deleted other files. Lehmann Maupin alleges that Ms. Yoo did so to gain a competitive advantage in the industry, while simultaneously impeding Lehmann Maupin’s business. The complaint “claims damages from the violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, the Stored Communication Act, confidentiality agreements, and New York law.”
Dominque Lévy of the Lévy Gorvey gallery has come to Ms. Yoo’s defense, publicly stating that she is “tremendously saddened” by the allegations against Ms. Yoo, and adding that the art world “is not the place for this aggressive behavior.” Lévy Gorvey gallery is not named as a defendant in this litigation. Ms. Yoo’s response is due January 29.
This case brings to light some interesting issues that permeate across much larger, more publicized industries. The first is that no industry is immune from trade secrets litigation. When key employees bring invaluable and irreplaceable knowledge to the table, they often become embroiled in trade secrets litigation with their former employers. Regardless of whether Ms. Yoo is liable for the allegations leveled against her in this case, it remains the case that departing employees are often unaware of their obligations with respect to protecting their former employees’ trade secrets. It is important to counsel individuals on the laws surrounding trade secrets theft prior to their exit from one company to a competitor company—whether they work for an art gallery or a tech-industry giant.
Our readers have seen enough of our blog posts to be familiar with the classic ex-employee trade secrets theft scenario: employee downloads confidential files to his personal computer; employee attempts to cover his tracks with deletions of those files; employee resigns from the company to work for a competitor. When such a classic case results in litigation, the plaintiff company typically succeeds in obtaining injunctive relief against the ex-employee. We posted about one successful preliminary injunction motion last year. A recent district court decision out of the District of Nevada, however, shows that a motion for TRO on seemingly slam-dunk facts is never guaranteed. This decision highlights two important takeaways for litigators: (1) if your client is facing imminent business harm, seek an injunction immediately; and (2) in the Ninth Circuit, there is no presumption of irreparable harm, even if the evidence shows trade secret misappropriation or a breach of the employee’s confidentiality agreement. 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 strange contraption in this photo is at the heart of a recent decision regarding the pleading standard for DTSA claims. On June 15, Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Juan Sanchez denied a motion to dismiss counts of trade secret misappropriation against Joshua Andrew Adams, a former project engineer for PDC Machines, Inc. who left the company and later joined Nel Hydrogen A/S. PDC and Nel collaborated in 2008 to develop high-pressure hydrogen gas diaphragm compressors and signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) barring Nel from replicating or reverse engineering the technology. Adams was also subject to an NDA that prohibited him from using any of PDC’s confidential information and trade secrets without written permission. In the complaint, PDC asserts that Adams now works for Nel, and that Nel has filed at least one patent application listing Adams as the inventor for a high-pressure diaphragm hydrogen compressor that is nearly identical to PDC’s version. 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
A recent case in Florida is a reminder that when dealing with government entities, trade secrets may be disclosed to the public, especially if that information has been aggregated. The District Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed a circuit court’s ruling ordering Broward County to produce information that Uber claimed were trade secrets. Uber and Broward County had entered into an agreement governing Uber’s services at the airport and Port Everglades. Part of the agreement required that Uber provide Broward County with monthly self-reports. These reports contained both aggregated data and granular data. The aggregated data was comprised of the total number of pickups and drop-offs at the airport and seaport, multiplied by the fee in each of those zones. The granular data included a time stamp, longitude and latitude of pick-ups or drop-offs, and the first three characters of the driver’s license plate. Per the agreement, Uber marked these monthly reports as containing trade secrets exempt from Florida’s Public Records Act, which Broward County was required to keep confidential. READ MORE
Start-ups often face a complex relationship with their trade secrets. Many of the strengths of early stage start-ups, such as collaborative work among a small number of business partners and open access to proprietary information by all team members, can obfuscate clear ownership rights and confidentiality obligations concerning trade secrets. The first employees of a company will also often feel a strong sense of ownership over his work, which can sometimes lead to the employee considering work developed for the company as his property, rather than the company’s. While proprietary information is often the lifeblood of the business, it can be expensive for young companies to protect. However, there are a number of inexpensive and overlooked best practices that can safeguard trade secrets without slowing down productivity or altering the company’s culture. READ MORE
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.