Practical Tips

Blockchain: Not Just a Platform for Cryptocurrency but a Potential Method for Protecting Trade Secrets and Other IP

Cryptocurrency has dominated the attention of the financial world for most of the past 12 months as Bitcoin’s value (as well as other cryptocurrencies’) soared over 1,500% in 2017 (though it has experienced some recent volatility).  While investors are happy to see their wallets growing, companies should be excited about the technology underlying most cryptocurrencies – blockchain – which has the potential to create a competitive advantage in trade secrets protection.

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Upon Reflection, Some Trade Secrets May Be Less Secret Than They Appear

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

Worse Than a Toothache: Dental Executive Alleged to Have Misappropriated Proprietary Business Leads

Earlier this month, a Nashville, Tennessee company filed a federal lawsuit against its former employee alleging trade secrets misappropriation under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, among other claims.  The plaintiff, Marquee Dental Partners, LLC, operates dental offices in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky.  Marquee purchases existing dental practices and provides administrative services to those practices allowing the doctors and support staff to focus on clinic services and patient care.  In a particularly strongly-worded introductory sentence, the complaint reads: “This case shows what it means to be a faithless corporate executive.”  READ MORE

Trade Secrets and Start-Ups: What to Do When Secrets Walk Out the Front Door

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

AEO Designations: A Balance Between Protecting Trade Secrets And Allowing Defendants To Defend Themselves

Whenever a trade secret owner asserts its rights in court against a party alleged to have misappropriated the trade secret, there is always a risk that the trade secret will be publicly disclosed during discovery or during trial, thereby resulting in a further uncontrollable dissemination of the trade secret.  The owner also faces a risk that information not included in the originally misappropriated information, will be disclosed during discovery, thereby possibly giving the adversary a free peak at new information.  One way to guard against the risk of such disclosure is the use of “AEO” or Attorneys’ Eyes Only designations in litigation protective orders for highly confidential materials, which limits the parties who can review such highly confidential information to attorneys only.  But as a recent case reminded us, the right to designate documents as AEO is not automatic; this protection of the plaintiff’s trade secrets and other highly confidential materials must also be balanced against the right of defendants to assist in their own defense. READ MORE

Trade Secret Misappropriation by Ex-Employees in China: How to Confront “Inside Theft”

Article 123 of the General Provisions of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China (effective Oct. 1, 2017) confirmed that trade secrets are intellectual property, signifying China’s recognition of the importance of trade secret protection.  Nevertheless, trade secret misappropriation remains rampant in the country.  READ MORE

Excess Cargo? Shipping Common Law Claims Out of a Trade Secret Complaint

AFS, a company specializing in streamlining shipping costs and logistics, had its eight count amended complaint streamlined to only one—its Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUSTA”) claim—primarily due to preemption and AFS’s lack of specificity as to its common law claims.

AFS filed suit in December 2016 against two prior employees, Christopher Cochran and Alessandro Rustioni, and their new competing company, Freightwise LLC.  AFS’s complaint set forth the classic case of defecting employee trade secret theft.  Among other things, AFS alleged that Cochran and Rustioni founded Freightwise in 2014 while still employed for AFS.  Both continued to work for AFS in sales leadership positions until late 2015 and early 2016.  And, they allegedly conspired to and secretly organized Freightwise by soliciting one of AFS’s major clients and maliciously interfering with its high-value contracts. READ MORE

PILLOW TALK: A Threat to Trade Secrets?

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

“It’s a Free Country, Right?” Court Declines to Enjoin Ex-Free Country Ltd. Employees From Contacting Customers on Purloined Contact List

Within days of each other, your clothing company―Free Country Ltd.―loses two employees who decamp to a rival to set up a competing apparel line.  You discover that just before leaving, they transferred some 50,000 documents to a personal account—customer orders, your master contact list, and product design information.  Incensed, you file a trade secrets lawsuit and seek an injunction prohibiting the thieves from soliciting your customers.  Their defense amounts to, “so what if we took the documents―it’s a free country!”  Easy win, right?  Wrong.  These are the facts of a recent trade secrets lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, in which the court denied the plaintiff’s request that its former employee defendants be prohibited from soliciting plaintiff’s customers. READ MORE