Employee Misappropriation

On June 8, 2021, the Third Circuit clarified the requirements for making a trade secret misappropriation claim under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) in a decision vacating the District of New Jersey’s dismissal of a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit against a former employee and his current employer. In short, the Third Circuit’s decision took a more relaxed view than the District Court, finding that a trade-secret plaintiff need not “spell out the details of its trade secret” or have direct allegations of misappropriation and harm to avoid dismissal.

Continue Reading The Third Circuit Clarifies DTSA Pleading Requirements, While Vacating Dismissal

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

The U.S. Justice Department indicted a man for allegedly conspiring to steal proprietary data from General Electric (“GE”) and produce and sell it in China.
Continue Reading DOJ Indicts Hong Kong Citizen in Attempted Trade Secrets Scheme

On March 1st, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, along with GOP members of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, announced legislation to address corporate espionage and foreign influence in Florida. In public remarks about the proposed legislation, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls expressed concern about the threat of China’s influence on local governments and university systems, stating “that there are no limits to the depths to which other countries, especially China, will go to steal our science and technology.”

Continue Reading Florida Lawmakers Seek to Address Corporate Espionage in Proposed Legislation

On February 10, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) issued a final determination finding South Korean lithium-ion electric vehicle battery maker SK Innovation misappropriated the trade secrets of its Korean competitor LG Chem in violation of Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930.  The ITC issued a 10-year exclusion order blocking SK’s imports into the U.S. of lithium-ion batteries and related products, but with substantial exceptions: SK is permitted to continue importing these products specifically for Ford Motor Co.’s EV F-150 program for four years, for Volkswagen of America’s modular electric drive line for two years, and for the repair and replacement of EV batteries for Kia vehicles sold to U.S. customers.  President Biden and his U.S. Trade Representative—Katherine Tai has been nominated but not yet confirmed—now have 60 days to review the ITC’s electric vehicle battery exclusion order, an order that could be seen as in tension with the new administration’s promotion of green energy.

Continue Reading ITC Finds Trade Secret Misappropriation and Bars Electric Vehicle Batteries from SK Innovation—With Exceptions

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

The U.S. Department of Justice has secured yet another conviction against a Chinese national for trade secret theft which is part of a larger push to protect valuable intellectual property.

Li Chen, a long time biotech researcher in a medical lab at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Ohio, pled guilty to conspiracy to misappropriate trade secrets and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  Chen, and her husband Yu Zhou, a fellow biotech researcher, were indicted in September 2019 following an extensive investigation. The indictment and plea agreement details their efforts to steal trade secrets related to exosome isolation technology, which represents a critical development in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric diseases, including liver cancer and a condition found in premature babies.

Continue Reading Chinese Biotech Researcher Pleads Guilty to Trade Secret Misappropriation

A Kansas District Court judge recently dismissed a trade secrets misappropriation action between two competing livestock nutrition companies.

In Biomin Am. Inc. v. Lesaffre Yeast Corp., Plaintiff Biomin America, Inc. (“Biomin”) sued competitor Lesaffre Yeast Corporation (“Lesaffre”) and two former Biomin employees who now work for Lesaffre, asserting trade secret misappropriation under the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, 18 U.S.C. § 1836 (“DTSA”) as well as a handful of state law claims, including breach of contract, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and unfair competition.

Specifically, Biomin alleged that the two employees misappropriated trade secrets and violated restrictive covenants contained within their Biomin employment agreements by soliciting Biomin employees and customers and marketing Lesaffre’s competing products at a lower price.
Continue Reading Livestock Feed Trade Secrets Case Put Out to Pasture

Plaintiffs wishing to sue for patent, copyright, or trademark infringement all have one thing in common: they must prove they own the IP at issue. Not so for trade secrets. Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act only requires a plaintiff to lawfully possess, rather than formally own, the trade secrets it wishes to vindicate. With this opinion, the Third Circuit affirmed a district court decision awarding $3.5 million in damages and fees to NASA subcontractor Applied Fluid Systems Inc. (“AFS”) in its suit for trade secret misappropriation.

The “sorry story of disloyalty and deception piled upon deception” began in 2009, when AFS entered into a three-year contract with the Virginia Commonwealth Space Flight Authority (the “Authority”) to build, install, and maintain a hydraulic system for a NASA rocket launch facility. However, the Authority experienced financial difficulty, and eventually had to cede control of the launch system to a private entity, Orbital Sciences Corp. (“Orbital”). Through this acquisition, Orbital inherited the AFS contract. Importantly, the initial contract between AFS and the Authority made any materials generated by AFS for the Authority the property of the Authority.
Continue Reading A Story of Disloyalty and Deception: The Third Circuit Chimes in on Ownership Requirements in Trade Secrets Act Cases