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
On December 8, 2017, the Eighth Circuit rejected trade secrets and other claims related to allegedly stolen customer lists. Applying Missouri state law, the federal appellate court continued the Show-Me State’s tradition of looking at customer list trade secrets with a jaundiced eye. READ MORE
As our United States readers prepare for the holiday weekend, we look back to a post from the archives where we dished about franchise relationships gone awry and a trade secrets dispute over turkey sandwiches. The takeaway: Savvy franchisors should consider revisiting their agreements with an eye toward gaining admissions from franchisees that certain materials constitute trade secrets.
And while our readers in the rest of the world wrap up the work week, companies in the United Kingdom may have a reason to be thankful. As our colleagues over at the Employment Law and Litigation blog discuss, a recent High Court decision granted an order allowing an employer to image a departing employee’s computer to see if it contained confidential information.
This post is a good read not only for those in the UK but for any company interested in protecting its trade secrets and confidential information. For example, the post includes this tip, which has fairly broad impact: You will be more likely to persuade a court to rule in your favor if you offer limitations and controls in the carrying out of a forensic search of a computer or other device.
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.
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
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.
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
The U.S. Supreme Court, which just began a new term on Monday with a full complement of nine justices, is expected to soon decide whether it will hear the appeal of David Nosal, the former Korn Ferry executive whose conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was upheld in a controversial and closely-watched Ninth Circuit decision last year. Nosal submitted his reply brief in support of certiorari on September 19, 2017, responding to the Department of Justice’s opposition submitted two weeks earlier.
Competition from Chinese companies shows no signs of slowing. Likewise, allegations of trade secret theft against Chinese companies are increasingly common. In this case, the U.S. Department of Justice linked allegations of trade secret theft with wire transfers from a Chinese company in order to freeze bank accounts and real property held by several defendants charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. READ MORE