Trade Secrets Trends

Trade Secrets Trends

Analysis and commentary on the latest developments in trade secrets protection, disputes, and enforcement

The DNC Tests the Meaning of Trade Secrets in the Political Arena

Posted in Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA)

Under the Defend Trade Secrets Acts (DTSA), 18 U.S.C. §1836 et seq., a “trade secret” is any type of “financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information” that “derives independent economic value … from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”

The Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) filed a lawsuit against Russia, Wikileaks, the Trump Campaign, and several individuals (including Julian Assange, Jared Kushner, and a hacker named “Guccifer 2.0”) on April 20, 2018 in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. The DNC alleges that Russia, Guccifer 2.0, Wikileaks, and Assange violated the DTSA, and that all of the defendants violated the Washington D.C. Uniform Trade Secrets Act, D.C. Code Ann. §§ 36-401-46-410. The complaint defines the stolen secrets as “confidential proprietary documents related to campaigns, fundraising, and campaign strategy.” Specific documents include:  (1) a DNC-authored opposition research report on Donald Trump from December 2015; (2) DNC strategy documents related to the DNC’s “counter-convention” to the RNC convention; (3) personal information-including social security and passport numbers-of individuals who communicated with or donated to the DNC; and (4) Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. Continue Reading

No Malice Shown in Texas Trade Secret Misappropriation Case

Posted in U.S. Litigation

On April 19, a divided Texas appellate panel reversed a jury’s $4.5 million award of exemplary damages, finding no evidence of malice in a hydraulic fracturing trade secret misappropriation case. Shale Exploration, an independent Oil and Gas Exploration company, accused Eagle Oil & Gas of breaching a confidentiality agreement and engaging in theft of trade secrets (Shale’s identification and compilation of mineral interest owners). However, the Court found no evidence of malice despite even testimony of Shale’s own President. The panel affirmed all other findings of the lower court’s decision.

District Court Grants Immunity under the Defend Trade Secrets Act

Posted in Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), U.S. Litigation

In what is likely the first case of its kind, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a counterclaim for infringement of trade secrets, which the pharmaceutical company Lanett brought in the context of a wrongful termination suit initiated by a former employee. The Defend Trade Secrets Act was passed in May 2016 and allows the holder to a trade secret to bring suit in federal court when their trade secret has been misappropriated. However, in Christian v. Lannett Co., Inc., the alleged misappropriation happened during a document production made pursuant to a court order, which the court held is immunized by the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

North Carolina Supreme Court Raises the Barre on Pleading Requirements in Statutory Trade Secrets Cases

Posted in U.S. Litigation

In Krawiec v. Manly, owners of a ballroom dance studio sued two former employees pursuant to a non-compete clause in their employment contracts. The plaintiffs claimed their former employees began working at a competing dance studio where they shared “original ideas and concepts for dance productions, marketing strategies and tactics, as well as student, client and customer lists and their contact information.” However, the studio’s claim under North Carolina’s Trade Secrets Protection Act was dismissed by the North Carolina Business Court based on the pleadings, which did not specifically state each of the required components of a trade secrets claim. In upholding the dismissal, the North Carolina Supreme Court stated, “To plead misappropriation of trade secrets, a plaintiff must identify a trade secret with sufficient particularity so as to enable a defendant to delineate that which he is accurse of misappropriating and a court to determine whether misappropriation has or is threatened to occur.”

Facebook Settles $300+ Million Data Center Trade Secrets Case in the Middle of Trial

Posted in U.S. Litigation

On Monday, April 9, Facebook settled a trade secrets case brought against it in California federal court by BladeRoom Group Limited.

BladeRoom, a data center construction company, alleged that Facebook had used and divulged its trade secrets, specifically its methodology regarding efficient construction and implementation of pre‑fabricated data centers. BladeRoom had first presented to the social network giant in confidential discussions in 2011. BladeRoom sought damages in excess of $300 million.

After voluminous discovery and a week of trial, the parties settled the case, although BladeRoom’s case against another defendant based on similar allegations is still proceeding.

The settlement amount and terms were not immediately disclosed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, where the case was being tried.

PharMerica Learns the Hard Way: One Must Have a Trade Secret In Order to Survive a Motion for Summary Judgment

Posted in U.S. Litigation

PharMerica Corporation (“PharMerica”) is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky that provides institutional and hospital pharmacy services throughout the United States.  The company filed a lawsuit in September 2016 in the Federal District Court of Pennsylvania alleging several employment and tort-related claims, and claims of misappropriation of Trade Secrets under the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“PUTSA”) and the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) against former Pharmaceutical executive, Lena Sturgeon (“Sturgeon”) and ContinuaRx.  ContinuaRx is a start-up, long term care pharmacy that serves facilities and institutions with pharmaceutical needs. While the DTSA and the PUTSA use different wording to define a trade secret, they essentially protect the same type of information, and create a private right of action for the misappropriation of trade secrets.

Sturgeon and ContinuaRx filed a Joint Motion for Summary Judgment alleging that PharMerica failed to show it has protectable trade secrets.  At issue is whether PharMerica’s internal information about PharMerica’s service methods, market opportunities, marketing plans, current and prospective customers, and pricing information constitute protected trade secrets. On March 16, 2018, the judge sided with Sturgeon and ContinuaRx stating that while “PharMerica may have certain ‘trade secrets’ that deserve protection … in this instance [the company] failed to identify a single quality, attribute, or feature of any of these alleged trade secrets.”

Furthermore, PharMerica admitted that the majority of underlying materials that create its services, marketing opportunities, and pricing information are publically available, and “largely fixed by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.” Therefore, the court not only found that PharMerica failed to prove it had a protectable trade secret but also that there was no evidence that Sturgeon and/or ContinuaRx improperly acquired, disclosed, used, or threatened to use any specific trade secret.

Remember: “to warrant legal protection, a trade secret must be, in fact, a secret.”

Pennsylvania Judge Throws Out Pharmaceutical Trade Secrets Lawsuit

Posted in U.S. Litigation

A Pennsylvania federal judge grants Ex-PharMerica Executive’s motion for summary judgment. PharMerica, a company that provides long-term care pharmacy services to organizations such as senior living communities, filed suit against ex-executive Lena Sturgeon and two other ex-PharMerica employees in September 2016. A decision on defendant’s motion for summary judgment was released on March 16, 2018.

The company accused the ex-employees of misappropriating trade secrets after leaving PharMerica to launch a rival company called ContinuaRX LLC. PharMerica argued that trade secrets arose from its marketing plans, software, training programs, and customer service metrics, along with documents created to assist PharMerica’s employees with doing their jobs. In its decision, Judge Cercone noted that PharMerica admitted, however, that: there was nothing trade secret or confidential about the customers in its market; pricing and margins in long-term care pharmacy marketplace are largely fixed by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates; nearly all pharmacies follow state Medicaid comparable reimbursement strategies; and PharMerica trains customers on software that contains no prohibition against customer disclosure, among other relevant facts invalidating PharMerica’s arguments. Continue Reading

USTR: China Discriminates Against U.S. Firms Related to Tech Transfer, IP, and Trade Secrets

Posted in Asia

On August 18, 2017, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) launched a formal investigation pursuant to Section 301 of the Tariff Act of 1974 on the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The probe sought to determine whether the acts, policies, and practices of the PRC related to technology transfer, intellectual property, trade secrets, and innovation were discriminatory towards U.S. firms and undermined the United States’ ability to compete fairly in the global market. Section 301 allows the President to seek removal of any act, policy, or practice of a foreign government that violates an international agreement or that unfairly burdens or restricts U.S. commerce.

On March 22, President Trump issued a Memorandum stating the USTR found PRC actions do undermine U.S. firms’ ability to compete fairly in the global market by (1) requiring or pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese companies; (2) imposing restrictions on, and intervening in, U.S. firms’ investments and activities, including through restrictions on technology licensing terms; (3) obtaining cutting-edge technology by directing and facilitating the investment and acquisition of U.S. companies by Chinese companies; and (4) conducting and supporting intrusions and theft from the computer networks of U.S. companies.

In response, the President has directed the USTR to address these violations via a combination of retaliatory tariffs, World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement, and the Department of the Treasury to address via investment restrictions. Continue Reading

IBM v. Microsoft, Part II: Decision Suggests Diversity Data May Be a Trade Secret

Posted in Non-Competes, U.S. Litigation

As first reported in a C&M Trade Secrets Blog Post last week, IBM filed a lawsuit in New York federal district court in early February against Microsoft’s newly hired diversity executive, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre. Ms. McIntyre had been at IBM more than 20 years, finishing her employment as its Chief Diversity Officer. She also signed a one-year non-compete and non-solicit agreement set to expire on January 29, 2019.

When Ms. McIntyre left IBM to join Microsoft, IBM filed the lawsuit and sought an order to prevent her from working at Microsoft until January 29, 2019. IBM argued that “it is inevitable” that McIntyre would use IBM’s confidential information and trade secrets to further Microsoft’s diversity practices. IBM further argued that McIntyre can work virtually anywhere except a direct competitor of IBM, so her move to Microsoft was “especially serious, and unnecessary.”

On February 12, 2018, the U.S. District Court granted IBM’s request to restrain Ms. McIntyre temporarily from commencing employment with Microsoft, setting a hearing date of March 12 to determine whether that restriction would become permanent through January 29, 2019 based on the non‑compete agreement.

However, on March 5, one week before the hearing on the preliminary injunction hearing, the parties filed a notice to the court that they had settled the case. No settlement details were immediately made public or provided to the court.

Is China Discriminating against U.S. Firms Related to Technology Transfer, IP, Trade Secrets, and Innovation?

Posted in Asia

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer initiated an investigation on August 18, 2017 pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The probe will determine whether acts, policies, and practices of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) related to technology transfer, intellectual property, trade secrets, and innovation are discriminatory towards U.S. firms by undermining the United States’ ability to compete fairly in the global market. Section 301 allows the President to retaliate by removing any act, policy, or practice of a foreign government that violates an international agreement.

The investigation began after PRC President Xi Jinping unveiled a cybersecurity law to “protect personal information and individual privacy,” as reflected in China’s Made in China 2025 initiative. The law requires foreign companies operating in China to store their data on local servers. U.S. companies are now also being instructed to participate in joint ventures with Chinese enterprises, therefore sharing valuable technology information with their Chinese counterparts.

USTR allegedly finalized its report in December 2017, and the remedies are undergoing vetting in the interagency process. However, the U.S. may partner with the European Union and Japan to seek consultations through the WTO, rather than solve the issue unilaterally.

Pursuant to the Trade Act, Ambassador Lighthizer must determine within 12 months from the date of the initiation whether the Chinese government violated U.S. intellectual property laws. The retaliatory action proposed by USTR, if any, must be implemented within 30 days of the determination. USTR may delay the implementation up to 180 days if the agency determines that substantial progress could be made by the foreign government. If the determination is affirmative, then USTR will decide what action to take.

If Ambassador Lighthizer recommends retaliation under Section 301, the President could impose sanctions on certain Chinese industries, specifically steel. The current administration has demonstrated a tough stance on overcapacity by imposing a 25 percent global tariff on imported steel products, and a 10 percent global tariff on imported aluminum products.

As expected, the Chinese government is already demonstrating “tit for tat” retaliation by self-initiating anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing (CVD) investigations on imports of sorghum from the United States. In addition, China is already among one of the countries that has requested consultations from the WTO regarding the safeguard measures on solar cells and residential washing machines.

The USTR is expected to release its findings to the President within the coming months.