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.
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.
It turns out that, even in romantic relationships, some things are best kept secret. On July 7, 2017, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that a former executive disclosed confidential information to a romantic partner who happens to be an executive of one of Teva’s direct competitors. READ MORE
On April 20, 2017, the New York Court of Appeals issued a brief order continuing former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov’s eight-year voyage through the state’s and country’s legal systems. Here’s the issue: does making a digital copy of misappropriated source code instead of physical copy constitute a “tangible reproduction or representation” of the source code? READ MORE
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
What happens when trade secret protections collide with laws granting public access to government records? This question took center stage in a recent case involving the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”). A federal district court enjoined the SPD from disclosing a software vendor’s allegedly trade secret information in response to a reporter’s public records act request. Besides serving as a reminder of the precautions that companies should take when disclosing intellectual property to public agencies, the case also raises interesting questions and strategic considerations. READ MORE
The “gist of action” doctrine. Heard of it? Well, if you are dealing with Pennsylvania law, you need to know it. The “gist of action” doctrine asks whether the “gist” of a suit sounds in tort or contract. When applied to a claim of trade secret misappropriation, the doctrine questions whether the wrongful acts constitute a tort or a breach of contract. If the wrongful acts constitute a breach of contract, Pennsylvania law bars any trade secret claim. As evidenced by the case Wiggins v. Physiologic Assessment Services, LLC, whether a claim can be brought as a trade secret claim or a breach of contract claim can turn on the wording of the contract at issue. READ MORE