Restrictive covenants not to compete, or non-compete agreements, are one of a variety of tools companies use to protect their trade secrets and competitive advantage. However, whether a court will enforce a restrictive covenant varies widely across jurisdictions, including across states within the Fifth Circuit. For example, the Louisiana statute governing restrictive covenants applies a two-year durational limit, while Mississippi common law applies a more general ‘reasonable and specific’ standard to the duration and geographic scope of a restrictive covenant. In addition, Mississippi courts must balance the rights of the employer, the employee, and the public when enforcing restrictive covenants. Bus. Commc’ns, Inc. v. Banks, 91 So. 3d 1, 11 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011), aff’d, 90 So. 3d 1221 (Miss. 2012).
As we have previously posted, proper trade secret identification is often a key issue for parties bringing or defending against trade secret misappropriation claims. The precise standard of identification varies across jurisdictions and continues to evolve, but trade secret identification often functions as a gating issue early in a case. A recent decision from the Third Circuit serves as reminder that failure to properly identify purported trade secrets may not just be fatal to a party’s claim, but may render a preliminary injunction unenforceable.
Continue Reading Half-Baked Trade Secret Identification Leads Third Circuit to Vacate Preliminary Injunction
Following a national trend that we previously posted about, Illinois recently passed legislation to further restrict the use of non-compete agreements against low-wage workers. Under the previous version of the Illinois Freedom to Work Act, employers were prohibited from entering into non-compete agreements with employees making less than $13 per hour. The new version expands this restriction to include employees earning $75,000 or less and defines “earnings” to include salary, bonus, and other forms of taxable income. In addition, the amendment prohibits employers from entering into non-solicitation agreements with employees making $45,000 or less annually.
Continue Reading Illinois Law Imposes New Restrictions on Non-Compete Agreements
First off, don’t worry, Coca-Cola’s super-secret trade secret recipe is still safe. But on April 22, 2021, a jury in the Eastern District of Tennessee convicted a former Coca-Cola employee, Dr. Xiaorong (a/k/a Shannon) You, of stealing trade secrets related to BPA-free coatings for the inside of beverage cans for the Chinese Government. The Indictment alleged that the trade secret information cost almost $120 million to develop. The twelve-day in-person trial focused not just on the former employee’s wrong doing, but also on some the best practices Coca-Cola and Eastman Chemical Company used to protect the trade secrets at issue.
Continue Reading Former Coca-Cola Employee Convicted of Stealing Trade Secrets for the Chinese Government
Virginia recently joined a growing list of states that have passed legislation prohibiting employers from enforcing non-compete agreements against low-wage employees. Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington have already enacted similar legislation. And as we previously posted, similar legislation was introduced in the United States Senate nearly a year ago, though it did not advance. The trend reflects recognition among policy makers that non-compete agreements may unfairly restrict low-wage workers, who generally have limited bargaining power with respect to employers, from seeking new employment opportunities.
Continue Reading Virginia Joins States That Restrict Use of Non-Compete Agreements
On October 2, 2020, a federal judge for the Central District of California denied a motion for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) to enjoin the Discovery Channel from airing “The Lost Lincoln,” a documentary about an allegedly long-lost photograph of Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed. Only 130 photographs of Lincoln are known to exist.
Plaintiffs Jerry Spolar and Terry Williamson own the photograph, known as an ambrotype, and spent years researching and authenticating it. In 2018, they partnered with Whitny and James Braun to make a documentary about the photo and shared the details of their authentication efforts with the Brauns pursuant to non-disclosure agreements. The project fell through at first, but late last month, Plaintiffs learned that their former partners had created a documentary about the photograph for the Discovery Channel.
Continue Reading Court Denies TRO in “The Lost Lincoln” Misappropriation Case
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
Germany recently adopted new legislation governing trade secret protection. The “Gesetz zum Schutz von Geschäftsgeheimnissen” (or Trade Secrets Act) implements European Union Directive 2016/943, which is intended to harmonize trade secrets law across the European Union. While many of the core provisions of the Trade Secrets Act will be familiar to practitioners of U.S. trade…
Legislation recently introduced in the United States Senate to protect low-wage workers could roll back the use of non-compete agreements, a common tool companies use to protect their trade secrets.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced the “Freedom to Compete Act,” which aims to protect low-wage and entry-level employees from non-compete agreements, which generally…
Noncompete agreements are nothing new, in fact, 18% of all U.S. workers are subject to noncompetes while an estimated 70% of senior executives and 43% of engineers are bound by noncompetes. Employers frequently use noncompetes—which may restrict former employees from working for or starting competing businesses for a set period of time—to protect a company’s…