A perennial issue in trade secret litigation is: what factual allegations must be pled regarding what trade secrets are left when there are related patents from the same company on the same technology. The recent decision Safe Haven Wildlife Removal and Property Management Experts, LLC v. Meridian Wildlife Services LLC provides insight on this issue
For companies that rely heavily on R&D, such as those in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and associated manufacturing industries, IP forms some of their core assets. Protecting these assets is critical, and choosing between patents and trade secrets is not always straightforward.
This decision involves flexibility, understanding, and factoring in the ever-changing case law interpretations, which…
Trade secrets are always at risk when engaging in corporate deals that require the disclosure of confidential information. Though there is no sure-fire solution to protecting a company’s trade secrets, if handled properly, there is legal recourse to help mitigate any loss and deter trade secret theft. In a recent decision, the 8th Circuit affirmed the grant of a motion to dismiss a breach of contract action between a company and its financial advising firm. The facts, as presented in the District Court’s September 29, 2020 decision (19-cv-03125-JRT-HC, EFC No. 73), are instructive:
Protégé specializes in researching and developing blood-clotting products and maintains its work as trade secrets. In late 2017, looking to sell its business, Protégé entered into an Engagement Agreement with Duff & Phelps. The Engagement Agreement required Duff & Phelps to keep confidential any of Protégé’s non-public information, as well as provided immunity for certain corporate and individual liability and disclaimed a fiduciary duty. Smith reached out to Doug Schillinger, a Managing Director at a private equity firm, and board member at Z-Medica, which is also in the blood-clotting products space, to coordinate a meeting between Z-Medica and Protégé.
Continue Reading An NDA Leads to the Loss of Trade Secrets, a Failed Deal and No Recourse
On November 23rd, Pfizer filed a complaint against former employee Chun Xiao “Sherry” Li in a California federal court alleging that Li pilfered over 12,000 files worth of critical documents and trade secrets. U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted Pfizer’s motion for a temporary restraining order barring Li from using, disclosing or transmitting any confidential information or trade secrets owned by Pfizer, destroying or altering any of that information or destroying any devices storing the information. Li also must return any hard copy documents containing Pfizer’s confidential information or trade secrets, Judge Bencivengo said.
Hired as associate director of statistics in Pfizer’s global product development group at Pfizer’s facility in La Jolla, California in 2006, Li sought greener pastures at Xencor Inc. in 2021. Perhaps in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, Li treated herself to a parting gift of what Pfizer calls its clinical “playbook.” Its complaint also cited misappropriation of documents containing operational goals, goals for various drugs including cancer drugs, clinical development plans and clinical trial techniques.
Continue Reading Bad Medicine: Pfizer Files Complaint to Halt Potential COVID-Related Trade Secret Misappropriation
The 11th Circuit upheld a decision to unseal “embarrassing internal communications” between members of the United Network for Organ Sharing (“UNOS”) relating to its new policy directing liver transplants to go to the sickest patients within a certain radius of the donor.
The Court opened its opinion with a powerful question: “Organ donation saves lives—but whose?” Decades ago, Congress enacted the National Organ Transplant Act which authorized UNOS to create policies to facilitate the equitable distribution of organs among potential recipients. UNOS recently approved the Acuity Circles Policy, claiming its intent is to provide more liver transplants to patients in the greatest need, even if they are farther away from donors. Several hospitals and transplant centers who oppose the policy (and filed this lawsuit to prevent implementation of the policy), argue that it will make it more difficult for those outside of urban areas – and in particular those in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas – to access organs.
Continue Reading Who Spilled the (Kidney) Beans? 11th Circuit Unseals Private Emails in Organ Transplant Dispute
In a recent order, a judge in the Western District of North Carolina held that even though Plaintiff filed for a preliminary injunction in the United States, it may also arbitrate the dispute in Switzerland. This highlights that even with an arbitration agreement in place, trade secret litigation can occur on multiple fronts.
Continue Reading Multi-Front Trade Secret Protection: Moving for Injunction in U.S. Court Does Not Stop Plaintiff from Arbitrating in Switzerland
On August 24, 2021, the Northern District of California accepted the guilty pleas of the two co-founders of the Taiwanese biopharmaceutical start-up, JHL Biotech (now known as Eden Biologiccs) for trade secret theft and wire fraud. Pending sentencing, both face steep criminal penalties and possible prison sentences.
Chief Executive Officer Racho Jordanov and Chief Operating Officer Rose Lin were indicted for engaging in a fraudulent scheme to steal confidential and proprietary materials from competitor Genetech for over a decade. With these materials, JHL Biotech boosted its own, business because it was able to “cut corners, reduce costs, solve problems, save time, and otherwise accelerate product development timelines, ” alleged the Department of Justice in their indictment earlier this summer. Acting United States Attorney Hinds called the company a “nearly $1 billion Taiwanese unicorn built on a foundation of lies.”
Continue Reading Co-Founders of Taiwanese Biotech Company Plead Guilty to Trade Secret Theft as U.S. Cracks Down on Corporate Espionage
Why litigate a case for months or years, only to arrive at a settlement that would have been possible before the case began? In many cases, neither litigant would choose this approach, but it happens quite often nonetheless. According to Lex Machina data, about 60% of trade secret cases filed in federal court in the last decade ended in either a voluntary (8%) or stipulated (52%) dismissal. Of course, many of these settlements were likely informed by discovery and the arguments made by the parties in court. But in other cases, resolutions probably could have been reached before both parties incurred unnecessary litigation expenses.
Continue Reading Trade Secret Strategies: Using Standstill Agreements to Resolve Disputes Out of Court
The COVID-19 crisis has presented an array of novel issues for companies, including new and unexpected cybersecurity threats. In addition to the now well-known security limitations of video platforms such as Zoom, we are seeing cyber-attacks in the form of COVID-19 related phishing attempts and ransomware attacks. In at least some of these attempted hacks, cybercriminals are hoping to steal trade secrets.
- Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the novel at-home working environment and the increased fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to launch malware and phishing attacks related to COVID-19.
- Employees may be more likely to click a link or open an attachment, even though they would never consider doing so in a normal situation at work.
- Therefore, malware may pose more of a danger than it did when employees primarily accessed their email over their employers’ traditionally more protected systems.
- Companies should consider putting employees on notice about the COVID-19 related phishing attempts and provide examples of common scams.
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