Trade Secrets

Commentary Sheds Light on Appropriate Level of Detail for Plaintiffs in Misappropriation Cases

This May was the fourth anniversary of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), signed into law by President Obama on May 11, 2016. The DTSA does not preempt state laws and plaintiffs can still bring cases under their state’s trade secrets law, but the DTSA has played a big role in the increased number of trade secret cases in recent years. According to Lex Machina’s Trade Secret Litigation report, which covered federal district court data from 2010 to 2019, the DTSA caused a 30% increase in trade secret case filings between 2015 and 2017 and those numbers have remained steady. READ MORE

If trade secrets misappropriation claims can be brought by non-owners, what should companies do to manage risk?

Last week, we examined the recent Third Circuit decision in Advanced Fluid Systems, which held that a trade secrets plaintiff did not need to be an owner or a licensee of the alleged trade secrets to bring a state law misappropriation claim under Pennsylvania’s UTSA—all that was required was that the plaintiff had “lawful possession” of the trade secrets. In so holding, the Third Circuit added to the weight of the Fourth Circuit’s similar analysis of Maryland’s UTSA in DTM Research, L.L.C. v. AT&T Corp., 245 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 2001).

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Ajaxo v. E*Trade: How (Not) to Prove a Reasonable Royalty for Trade Secret Misappropriation

The latest appellate decision in the nearly 20-year legal battle between Ajaxo and E*Trade highlights the importance of expert discovery and a well-developed trial court record for a plaintiff attempting to claim reasonable royalties for trade secret misappropriation.

The saga between Ajaxo and E*Trade began back in the late 1990s, with Ajaxo, a six-person company, approaching E*Trade, seeking to support its wireless access and trading business.  In response, E*Trade asked Ajaxo for a technical paper and live demonstrations, during which E*Trade’s engineers peppered Ajaxo with questions.  One E*Trade senior engineer, Dan Baca, made a copy of Ajaxo’s technical binder.  After E*Trade sent Ajaxo a draft letter of intent—with everything but the dollar amount filled in—E*Trade had a change of heart and told Ajaxo it was simply too small to be an E*Trade partner.  Instead, E*Trade acquired these services a short time later from Everypath, a company that it had been meeting with simultaneously, and where Dan Baca started to work shortly after attending the Ajaxo meetings. READ MORE

Joint Ventures & COVID-19: How to Protect Trade Secrets when Partnering with Competitors to Meet PPE and Ventilator Demand

COVID-19 has presented countless challenges, among them, the extraordinary need—and conversely, extreme shortages—of basic protective gear, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (“PPEs”) for healthcare professionals and essential businesses.  With these challenges come a myriad of opportunities for companies to develop, engineer, and deploy novel ways to address the shortage.  Possible solutions have included the federal government ordering, under the Defense Production Act, manufacturers to prioritize the manufacturing of essential medical products. As a result of high demand and a compelling need, manufacturers are stepping outside their established businesses and joining with new partners to quickly manufacture necessary products. READ MORE

Protecting IP in a COVID-19 Remote-Work-World

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers offered remote work options. Now employers all over the world are encouraging or requiring their employees to work remote from home. This means employees are accessing, maintaining, and sharing proprietary information outside of the office more frequently than ever before, thereby increasing the risk of employee and third-party IP theft. READ MORE

In Pursuit of Chinese Trade Secret Theft: Fresh Allegations Against Huawei and Chinese Military Grabs 145 Million SSNs

Loyal readers are familiar with the DOJ’s “China Initiative,” launched in November 2018 to prosecute the theft of U.S. trade secrets by or for Chinese interests. Attorney General Barr reaffirmed the DOJ’s commitment “to combat the threat posed by theft directed and encouraged by the PRC” in an address at the China Initiative Conference last month. The DOJ’s campaign recently intensified with two new, gripping indictments. READ MORE

Professor’s Prosecution Shows Importance of Disclosing All Foreign Ties

In August 2019, federal prosecutors indicted Feng Tao, a Chinese scientist conducting research at the University of Kansas, on fraud charges. The indictment may not appear notable at first glance. But when viewed against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s escalating trade war and the Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” the facts underlying this prosecution may tell a deeper story.

As part of its China Initiative—a program announced in November 2018 to combat state-sponsored intellectual property theft—the DOJ set out to develop an enforcement strategy concerning universities and research laboratories. These institutions are considered particularly vulnerable targets of Chinese espionage because of their status as recruiters of foreign talent and incubators of state-of-the-art technology. The FBI has since begun scrutinizing universities’ ties to China, reaching out to schools around the country to curb the threat of technology and trade secret theft posed by researchers tapped by the Chinese government. READ MORE

Huawei Alleges “Selective Prosecution” by the DOJ

In January of this year, the DOJ indicted the Chinese telecom giant Huawei on counts of theft of trade secrets conspiracy, attempted theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice. On August 1, Huawei moved to dismiss the indictment for “selective prosecution.” Huawei contends that it is the “target of the politically motivated decision, at the highest levels of the U.S. government, to pursue the selective prosecution of Chinese companies and nationals for the alleged misappropriation of intellectual property.” In essence, it argues that the DOJ unconstitutionally seeks to punish Huawei because it is a large, successful Chinese company, not because of illegal behavior by the company or its agents. READ MORE

Worried About Trade Secret Poaching? Check in With Your Third-party Service Providers

Hiring external contractors is common practice in the fast-paced tech-industry where talent is scarce and in high-demand, but such a practice can expose a company’s most valuable IP to the confidentiality measures, or lack thereof, of those external contractors. This type of common business model is an area ripe for trade secret theft. University Accounting Services (“UAS”) alleges that this is exactly what happened when their point person at ScholarChip, an external tech company hired by UAS to design and maintain their tuition collection software “eUAS,” left ScholarChip and formed a product in direct competition with UAS. UAS filed suit in Oregon against ScholarChip and its former employee, and both filed a motion for summary judgement. The court denied the motion and held that there were genuine disputes of material fact surrounding the breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets claims, among others. READ MORE

Are State Governments Immune From Suit For Misappropriation Of Trade Secrets?

You are a state-government contractor. You respond to an RFP issued by a state-government entity. In your bid proposal, you submit documents that contain your trade secrets. You do not get the contract, but you later learn that the state-government entity gave your trade secret information to your direct competitor who did get the contract. Do you have any options under federal or state trade secret laws to sue the state? READ MORE