The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique and unprecedented challenges to the ongoing need to protect confidential information and trade secrets. The massive business disruptions that enterprises of all kinds now face include (1) entire workforces forced to work remotely, accessing and using confidential information and trade secrets from home; (2) exigent circumstances created by the cessation or substantial slowing of commercial activity that may result in the disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets to third parties outside normal procedures; and (3) the off-boarding of remote employees who are accessing confidential information and trade secrets remotely.

Trade secret protection may not be the immediate priority of a business facing massive business disruptions, but taking reasonable steps now to protect the security of trade secrets and confidential information is critical to the preservation of these valuable assets when this crisis is over. Trade secret law – both federal and state – requires that a trade secret holder take reasonable measures under the circumstances to protect trade secrets.1 Reasonable measures relate not only to prevention of unauthorized disclosures, but also the minimization of the impact of any such disclosures after they occur, and these measures must be reasonable now under the current exigent circumstances. Continue Reading Trade Secret Protection During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As autonomous vehicles quickly move farther towards the mainstream, the underlying technology has become increasingly more valuable and has led to an uptick in the theft of autonomous vehicle (“AV”) trade secrets. Indeed, criminal prosecutions of former employees for trade secret theft have been on the rise, especially in the autonomous vehicle segment. Two recent cases underscore the enforcement agencies’ efforts to stem the rise in trade secret theft in the AV segment. Anthony Scott Levandowski was a former executive at both Uber and Google. He departed Google and created a new company named Ottomotto, LLC that was later purchased by Uber. Levandowski pled guilty to theft of trade secrets from Google, admitting that he downloaded approximately 14,000 files from an internal, password-protected Google server to his personal laptop, including a key internal tracking document from Google that detailed the status of its self-driving car program. Levandowki faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and $250,000 fine plus restitution. Continue Reading Prosecutions of Trade Secret Theft by Former Employees in Autonomous Vehicle Development

Coronavirus-related emergency measures may limit litigants’ ability to protect trade secrets in state court. State courts are drastically altering their operations in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, including closing courthouses, continuing trials and other deadlines, suspending rules requiring paper filings, and encouraging, if not requiring, telephone and videoconferencing.

New York State, which as of the publishing of this piece was the state with the highest number of confirmed cases in the United States, has imposed some especially restrictive measures for litigants in state court. New York’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, has restricted all non-essential filings (and has also postponed all “nonessential” services). New York courts are only accepting filings pertaining to emergency matters, which the Administrative Order defines to include criminal matters; family court; certain Supreme Court matters including guardianship matters, emergency election law applications, and extreme risk protection orders; and civil housing matters, including landlord lockouts, serious code violations, serious repair orders, and applications for post-eviction relief. The Order is available here. Filings in most civil suits are, accordingly, restricted. Continue Reading Coronavirus Related Restrictions on Emergency Trade Secrets Filings in New York

A recent decision by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York reinforces that owners of trade secret computer programs should carefully approach copyright registration in order to maintain both copyright and trade secret protection. This includes being conscious of copyright regulations allowing the partial and redacted registration of computer code with the Copyright Office.

In a recent manifestation of this principle, Capricorn Management Systems accused GEICO of misappropriating Capricorn’s trade secret source code for medical billing software. Last week, the court granted GEICO’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the code was not entitled to trade secret protection, in part because it was registered, unredacted, with the U.S. Copyright Office, and was therefore publicly available. Continue Reading GEICO Earns Victory at Intersection Between Copyright and Trade Secret Law Covering Source Code

Companies and other organizations increasingly must face serious and complex threats to their business and infrastructure.  Whether the threat is trade secret theft, rogue insiders, cybercrime adversaries, aggressive competitors, or misconduct by business and supply chain partners, companies should remain constantly vigilant and defense ready. Adversaries, including especially cybercriminals operating exclusively in the digital domain, are often highly motivated, sophisticated, resourced, and innovative. The opaque, pervasive, and global nature of modern digital networked environments presents opportunities for criminals. The sophistication and relentless creativity of these bad actors pose significant challenges to companies and law enforcement agencies in being able to detect, assess, mitigate, attribute, and deter these threats. Because available tools and real-world practices to address these threats often outpace the law, companies are called upon to develop their own comprehensive approaches to investigate and remediate these forms of risk. In doing so, companies must be willing to assume a certain level of risk to effectively investigate and obtain sufficient insight to counter the problems. Continue Reading Complex Threat Investigations: Tips for Investigating Trade Secret Misappropriation and Other Digital Crimes

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania recently ruled that a forum-selection clause in a former employee’s non-compete agreement may bind their new employer for purposes of establishing personal jurisdiction.

Matthews International Corporation (“Matthews”), a manufacturer of cremation furnaces, filed an action in the Western District of Pennsylvania against former employees and two competitors, Implant Recycling, LLC (“Implant”) and IR Environmental Solutions, Inc. (“IR Environmental”), alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition. According to Matthews’s complaint, its former employees saved confidential company information and trade secrets on their personal USB drives and emailed company files to themselves before leaving Matthews to join Implant or IR Environmental. These former employees were subject to non-competition agreements that required them to submit to personal jurisdiction in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas or the Western District of Pennsylvania. Continue Reading Hirer Beware: Your Employee’s Non-Compete Agreement with their Former Employer May Determine Where You Can be Haled to Court

A New Mexico court of appeals recently held that a former employee could not be permanently enjoined from disclosing trade secrets because his employment agreement provided for a five-year limit on the duty of confidentiality.

Lasen, Inc. (“Lasen”), a company that uses trade secret helicopter-mounted LIDAR imaging technology to detect methane gas leaks in natural gas pipelines, sued a former research scientist who wrote the source code for the company’s signature technology. Lasen alleged that the former employee stole the source code and other crucial information as well as deleted Lasen’s copies following his termination in 2009. As a result, Lasen was unable to update its LIDAR technology because it could not decipher the source code. Lasen also alleged that the former employee used its trade secrets in seeking employment with a direct competitor. After a bench trial, the court found the former employee did not misappropriate Lasen’s trade secrets, but he did breach his fiduciary duty and wrongfully retained intellectual property and trade secrets that belonged to Lasen. Therefore, the court permanently enjoined the former employee from disseminating or retaining any of Lasen’s trade secrets (the parties had stipulated that the source code was trade secret). Continue Reading Permanent Injunctions Restricting Use of Trade Secrets May Only Be as Permanent as an Employment Contract’s Provisions

Recently the District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a decision that illustrates the risks of taking an informal approach to protecting confidential business information. As described below, in Pauwels v. Deloitte et al., No. 19-CV-2313 (RA), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28736 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2020), the court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint, finding that the facts alleged by Plaintiff failed to give rise to a valid claim for misappropriation because (among other issues) Plaintiff failed to impose adequate protections on his alleged confidential business information.

The Plaintiff worked as an “independent advisor” to the Bank of New York Mellon (“BNYM”), earning upwards of $750,000 per year for his advice on how to optimize BNYM’s investments in alternative energy companies (e.g., wind farms).  No contract governed the relationship; instead, Plaintiff submitted periodic invoices for his advisory work. In the course of his work, Plaintiff developed an investment model as a tool for analyzing BNYM’s alternative energy investments, and in his complaint he alleged that the tool was his proprietary information. Over the course of several years, Plaintiff sent BNYM more than 100 spreadsheets showing implementations of his investment model. Eventually, BNYM retained Deloitte to provide the analyses and severed its relationship with Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that Deloitte improperly used his proprietary model when advising BNYM. Continue Reading Pauwels v. Deloitte: A Cautionary Tale About Informal Approaches to Protecting Confidential Business Information

Source: Claudia Künkel (Flickr)

A lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages based on allegations that the rideshare company was founded based on stolen trade secrets can now move forward after a jury in San Francisco Superior Court decided last month that the plaintiff’s claim was timely filed. The complaint alleges that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and others misappropriated Plaintiff Kevin Halpern’s idea for a startup called Celluride Wireless Inc. – a peer-to-peer service enabling passengers to summon drivers and track them with their cell phones. Halpern claims that he disclosed information about his idea to Kalanick under the promise of secrecy around 2006. The Uber app was launched four years later.

In defense, Kalanick claims that Uber Chairman Garrett Camp, also an individual defendant in the lawsuit, came up with the idea that later became Uber when the two were in Paris. According to Kalanick and Camp, Camp’s initial concept was for a limo timeshare service. Continue Reading Billion Dollar Trade Secret Misappropriation Lawsuit Against Uber to Move Forward

For the first time, a United States federal court has held that a civil action for private damages under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) can arise from acts of misappropriation that occur completely outside the United States – as long as they have a nexus with some activities within the U.S. In Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc’ns Corp., Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-1973 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 6, 2020) (an earlier decision in this case was previously discussed on this blog here), Motorola alleged that Hytera Communications, a Chinese company, hired away three engineers who then took with them Motorola trade secrets, including thousands of Motorola’s confidential technical documents containing millions of lines of source code and other highly confidential information.

Continue Reading After Motorola Verdict, DTSA Has Extraterritorial Application