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

On May 6, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine denied plaintiff Alcom’s request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which sought to enjoin a competitor’s alleged misappropriation of trade secrets. The court denied the request for a TRO, holding that Alcom’s speculation about the potential harm it would suffer absent the TRO was not enough to show a likelihood of irreparable harm, as required to obtain a TRO. The case serves as a reminder that when proving irreparable harm, courts require more than just speculation.

In 2015, Alcom (a trailer manufacturer) hired Mr. Temple (defendant) as a sales representative for its horse and livestock trailers. As the sole salesperson in North America for the Frontier line of trailers, Mr. Temple gained significant responsibilities including developing and maintaining sales leads, as well as growing Alcom’s customer base for those trailers. Mr. Temple signed various agreements as conditions to his employment, including (i) confidentiality agreement, (ii) non-disclosure agreement, (iii) non-compete agreement, and (iv) a non-solicitation agreement. Alcom required Mr. Temple to sign the agreements as a precondition for accessing highly valuable and confidential company information relating to customer incentive program details, sales and marketing information, and unique insights into the needs and operational requirements of the trailer dealers he solicited.
Continue Reading Under Alcom v. Temple, Speculative Harm Does Not Meet the Irreparable Harm Requirement

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

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

The Southern District of California recently confirmed that the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”) does not preempt other civil claims to extent they are based on wrongful conduct relating to non-trade secret intellectual property.

The case involves an employee leaving a company and allegedly commercializing its trade secret with a competitor. Defendant Mr. Corey was an original co-founder of Plaintiff Javo – which sold coffee, tea, and botanical extracts. He played a key role in developing Javo’s proprietary process for making extracts. The process involved using a specially made extraction vessel and particular levels of water quality, temperature and pressure. In 2011, as a result of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Javo terminated Mr. Corey’s employment. Importantly to this case, his employment agreement had included an assignment of all his rights and interests in any trade secrets to Javo.

Mr. Corey went on to work for the Defendant, California Extraction Ventures (“CEV”). Shortly thereafter, Mr. Corey filed patent applications disclosing some of Javo’s allegedly proprietary information, including purported trade secret information, as well as other confidential (but not trade secret) information. Rather than assign the patent applications to Javo, Mr. Corey assigned them to CEV, his new employer. Eventually seven patents issued, and seven additional applications were published.
Continue Reading CUTSA Does Not Preempt Contractual Interference Claim Based on Confidential (But Not Trade Secret) Information

On September 23rd, 2019, the District Court for the District of Colorado awarded Atlas Biologicals, Inc. a total of $2 million against Defendant Thomas Kutrubes and his company, Peak Serum, Inc. Kutrubes, a part owner and former employee of Atlas, was found liable for trademark infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and breach of fiduciary duty.

In the First Circuit, restrictive covenants are governed predominately by statute (with the exception of Puerto Rico, which governs such agreements through common law). Within the last year, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire have amended their restrictive-covenant statutes to prohibit employers from requiring lower-wage earners to sign noncompete agreements. A recently proposed amendment to Massachusetts law, if passed, would render all noncompetition agreements void and unenforceable effective January 1, 2021. These efforts reflect increasing hostility towards, and increased scrutiny of, restrictive covenants in the First Circuit.

Continue Reading Restrictive Covenants in the First Circuit

As in other states, the enforceability of restrictive covenants or non-compete clauses in the Sixth Circuit turns primarily on the reasonableness of the restriction’s geographic and temporal scope. Michigan has enacted a statute explaining when non-competes may be enforced. In Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, enforcement is determined entirely by common law. In Ohio and Tennessee, courts will consider the public interest in addition to the interests of the parties involved.

Continue Reading Restrictive Covenants in the Sixth Circuit

A recent International Trade Commission (ITC) case shows that, although rarely used, the ITC remains a viable option for parties pursuing trade secret misappropriation claims. Trade secret claims can be brought under Section 337(a)(1)(A)’s catch-all for other “unfair methods of competition and unfair acts in the importation of articles”—often called “non-statutory” claims—and can result in

States within the Fourth Circuit vary in their enforcement of restrictive covenants. Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina govern the use of restrictive covenants through common law while North Carolina governs through statute. Despite the variations in governing authority, many of the factors used in these states will be familiar, given the widely accepted “reasonableness” standard