Employee Mobility

Race to the Finish: Autonomous Vehicle Technology at the Forefront of Alleged Trade Secrets Theft

The stakes couldn’t be higher in the race amongst Silicon Valley self-driving companies vying to be the first to bring the industry-changing technology to market.  With competition so steep, and the potential value counted in the trillions, the efforts to protect this technology have given rise to frequent trade secrets theft disputes.

In the most recent instance of alleged autonomous vehicle technology trade secret theft, a federal district court judge ordered the former director of hardware of WeRide Corp., Kun Huang, to return all files he allegedly downloaded from WeRide before his departure in 2018.  WeRide formerly credited Huang with its success in becoming the fastest autonomous vehicle company to complete its first public road test.  Now, WeRide alleges Huang copied confidential information from a company shared-laptop, deleted files from the laptop, cleared its web browsing history, and then erased the hard drive on his WeRide-issued personal MacBook.  Shortly thereafter, Huang began working at Zhong Zhi Xing Technology Co., Ltd. (ZZX), another defendant in the case, which WeRide alleges was founded by its former CEO, Jing Wang, also named as a defendant.

Based on these allegations, the Court granted WeRide a preliminary injunction against Huang and his new companies, ZZX and a related entity AllRide.AI, Inc., barring these parties from using or sharing WeRide’s trade secrets and requiring them to return all WeRide materials within four days of the order.

This case is but one of many recent trade secret disputes amongst Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle technology companies.  And with autonomous vehicle employee turnover high and trillions of dollars at stake, we expect to see many more trade secret disputes arise.

Third Circuit: Spying on Former Employee’s Social Media Account Does Not Constitute “Unclean Hands” to Bar Trade Secret Misappropriation Claim

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

Another California Court Raises Doubts on Employee Non-Solicitation Provisions

Last November, we discussed the potential impact of a recent California appellate court decision, AMN Healthcare, Inc. v. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc., 28 Cal. App. 5th 923 (2018), which called into question long-standing California precedent enforcing certain employee non-solicitation provisions.  However, we noted it was too soon to forecast the implications of that case.

Though it is still early, it appears the tide may be turning, as a California federal district court recently issued a decision that relied upon AMN’s holding and found that the employee non-solicitation provision in the plaintiff’s contract was unenforceable under California law.

READ MORE

One Step Away from Uniform: Taking a Closer Look at Massachusetts’ New Trade Secrets Law

As we reported in August, Massachusetts became the penultimate state to enact the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), leaving New York as the sole remaining holdout. Massachusetts’ new law, which took effect October 1, 2018, significantly expanded the state’s existing trade secrets law by broadening protections for trade secret owners and narrowing the scope of noncompete agreements. As we reported earlier this month, the new law does not apply retroactively even if the violation is ongoing in nature.

READ MORE

Massachusetts Enacts New Reforms on Noncompetes, Becomes 49th State to Enact UTSA

Just two days after TSW’s inaugural post, we brought you news of Texas becoming the 48th state to enact some form of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA).

Now, roughly five years and one federal trade secrets statute later, Massachusetts has become the 49th state, leaving New York as the lone holdout.  The new law, which takes effect on October 1, 2018, is part of an amendment to a $1.1 billion economic development bill that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on August 10, 2018.  With the enactment of the UTSA, Massachusetts courts will have newfound power to enter injunctions against actual or threatened misappropriation of trade secrets.

READ MORE

Employee Non-Solicitation and No-Hire Covenants? What’s the Scoop, California?

The law in California is well settled that, with few exceptions, non-compete agreements are unenforceable.  Less clear is whether and to what extent employee non-solicitation and no-hire agreements can withstand a court’s scrutiny.  These types of agreements often exist between employers and employees, as well as between employers themselves.  And while non-solicitation provisions containing broad language prohibiting direct or indirect solicitation are common, there is significant confusion over the extent of their enforceability in California.  Are these agreements enforceable?  As is often the case, the answer is “it depends.”  Fortunately, there are a handful of published appellate cases highlighting the fine distinctions that guide the analysis: READ MORE

Courts Continue to Enforce Foreign Non-Competes in California While the Window for Such Agreements Slowly Closes

Contrary to common perception, California employees who signed restrictive covenants prior to January 1, 2017 are not completely immune to enforcement of all restrictions on competition. For the second time in several years, a foreign corporation, Synthes, Inc., successfully enforced a non-competition agreement against former employees who were California residents. In the most recent case, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, enforced the company’s agreement against a Sacramento resident. READ MORE

One of Obama Administration’s Final Mandates: Non-Competes Should Be The Exception, Not The Rule

With all the hubbub over the Presidential election, it would not be hard to overlook some of the Obama administration’s final moves. Recently, the White House issued a call to action to state legislators to ban non-compete agreements for most classes of workers. In an era where even sandwich makers can be bound to a non-compete agreement, the White House is concerned about the overuse of non-compete agreements and the potential stifling effect of these agreements across the economy. According to the White House, 20 percent of U.S. workers are bound by non-compete agreements, including 14 percent of those earning less than $40,000 per year. READ MORE

Growing Small Satellite Market Spawning Litigation

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

Government Attacks on Non-Compete Agreements Continue

Non-compete agreements have long been used by employers as an effective tool to protect their valuable trade secrets and confidential information. However, employers’ overuse of non-compete agreements and employers’ practice of requiring all of their employees to sign non-compete agreements recently has come under significant attack by federal and state governments. In July, Trade Secrets Watch discussed some of those recent attacks. Since July, there have been a number of additional efforts by government to prohibit the overuse of non-compete agreements. READ MORE