Ex-Employee Misappropriation

Intent to Use is Sticking “Pointe” In Denial of Preliminary Injunction

On October 25, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied motions for injunctive relief in a case involving trade secrets allegedly stolen by a departing consultant using his personal computer to sync with the company’s Dropbox.  This case established (1) Massachusetts’ newly enacted Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) does not apply retroactively even if the violation is continuing; and (2) intent to use a trade secret is a hurdle which Plaintiffs can struggle to show where there is not evidence of actual use and the defendant takes steps at remediation. READ MORE

T-R-NO: Nevada District Court Denies Motion for TRO Despite Evidence of Mass Download of Company Files and Steps Taken to Cover Tracks

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

Don’t Rock the Boat: Eleventh Circuit Sinks Boatmaker’s Trade Secrets Claims Against Rival

On August 7, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendant in Yellowfin Yachts v. Barker Boatworks, LLC. Sending the rival high-end boatmakers back to shore after a two-year dispute, the Eleventh Circuit concluded, among other things, that plaintiff had not done enough to maintain the secrecy of its alleged trade secret information. READ MORE

In Hawaii, “Aloha” May Mean Both Hello and Goodbye, But When Employees Leave, Who Owns the Customer Relationships?

As we’ve observed over the years, when addressing trade secrets claims based on customer lists, courts have landed all over the place. These cases involve difficult questions such as when an employee develops relationships on behalf of Company A but then leaves for Company B, who “owns” those relationships?

A recent federal district court decision from the District of Hawaii, WHIC LLC dba Aloha Toxicology v. Nextgen Labs, Inc., offers an example of how the severity of the alleged misconduct may enable the employer to prevail, even if it can make only a marginal showing on the existence of a trade secret. On September 17, 2018, the court granted the plaintiff drug testing company’s request for a preliminary injunction, requiring, among other things, its competitor to stop servicing certain former clients of the plaintiff. READ MORE

Defining Trade Secrets: Texas Supreme Court May Soon Decide How Particular Trade Secrets Owners Must Be in Court

In every trade secrets case, the plaintiff faces the same fundamental dilemma:  In order to enforce their rights in court, they must identify (at least to some degree) the trade secrets at issue. Although California has adopted a reasonable particularity requirement by statute, how much detail plaintiffs must provide when identifying their trade secrets in litigation continues to vary state-by-state.  The answer is no clearer under federal law, as the Defend Trade Secrets Act is silent as to this issue.

Notwithstanding, the level of particularity required is an ongoing issue that courts continue to grapple with.  For example, Texas’s highest court may weigh in for the first time on the degree of specificity plaintiffs must provide when identifying trade secrets allegedly misappropriated under the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA). READ MORE

David Nosal Raises Unusual Fairness Argument in Yet Another Attempt to Avoid 366-Day Prison Sentence

Just over four years ago, in January 2014, a court sentenced former Korn/Ferry regional director David Nosal to one year and one day in prison for violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Espionage Act.  Nosal appealed the sentence, but his appeals ultimately failed: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Nosal’s sentence, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case.  Luckily for Nosal, his 2014 motion for release pending appeal was granted, so he has not served any time during the four years of appeals. READ MORE

TOTAL ECLIPSE EDITION: Trade Secret Disputes That Are Out of This World

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.

Turn Around…

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.

READ MORE

A Bump in the Road: An Update on the Waymo v. Uber Litigation

The Waymo v. Uber trade secrets litigation has been underway for less than two months but the case has already hit quite few speed bumps with multiple discovery battles, Waymo’s efforts to obtain a preliminary injunction from Judge William Alsup of Northern District of California, a fight over arbitration, assertions of 5th Amendment rights, and now an appeal to the Federal Circuit that has temporarily halted a portion of the district court proceedings.

As a quick recap of how we got here, Waymo alleges that one of its former key managers in charge of Waymo’s driverless car business, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded more than 14,000 files to start a competing company—Otto—that Uber later purchased.  The key technology relates to a LiDAR system, which is mounted on top of the car and gives the driverless car the ability to “see” other cars and obstacles.  Waymo is seeking a preliminary injunction enjoining Uber from using or disclosing any of Waymo’s trade secrets and from selling any devices based on Waymo’s patents.  In aid of the PI hearing on May 3, 2017, the parties are engaging in expedited discovery. Since this case started, the docket has been quite active and full of interesting, thorny legal issues. READ MORE

It’s Positioning That Matters: Texas Court of Appeals Holds Proof Of Actual Use Not Required At The Temporary Injunction Phase

Christopher Hughes worked for Age Industries, Ltd. (“AI”) for nearly 20 years. He was the general manager of one of AI’s branch facilities and a limited partner of the company.  In this role, Hughes had access to much of AI’s proprietary and trade secret information, including specialized customer pricing information, financial reports, and business strategies.  After leaving AI, Hughes became the operations manager of a new competitor in the corrugated packing materials market—Diamondback Corrugated Container, LLC. READ MORE