International Developments

For the first time, a United States federal court has held that a civil action for private damages under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) can arise from acts of misappropriation that occur completely outside the United States – as long as they have a nexus with some activities within the U.S. In Motorola Sols., Inc. v. Hytera Commc’ns Corp., Ltd., No. 1:17-cv-1973 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 6, 2020) (an earlier decision in this case was previously discussed on this blog here), Motorola alleged that Hytera Communications, a Chinese company, hired away three engineers who then took with them Motorola trade secrets, including thousands of Motorola’s confidential technical documents containing millions of lines of source code and other highly confidential information.

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On February 13, 2020 the United States filed a sixteen-count superseding indictment against Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and several U.S. based subsidiaries (collectively “Huawei”) charging Huawei with racketeering, money laundering, and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The new charges, announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Justice Department’s Criminal and National Security divisions, and the FBI, are the latest of a number of enforcement actions by the U.S. Government against Huawei, and yet another escalation in the U.S. Government’s quest to prevent Huawei from stealing trade secrets and other sensitive intellectual property from American companies.
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The United States has long struggled with intellectual property (IP) theft facilitated or condoned by the Chinese government. Just in the past year, a CNBC CFO survey reports that one in five North American corporations have had their IP stolen by China, and just below one-third of CFOs of North American-based companies on the CNBC Global CFO Council state that Chinese firms have stolen from them during the last decade. This IP theft is very costly. In fact, some sources estimate that the annual cost that international IP theft imposes on the United States exceeds $225 billion in counterfeit goods and could be as elevated as $600 billion.

Chinese entities have been alleged to steal IP from foreign companies using methods such as trading with or forming joint ventures with the companies and then gaining access to their sensitive or proprietary information. Businesses have also willingly allowed Chinese partners to access this information in exchange for accessing China’s immense market. Some examples of alleged Chinese IP theft include a conspiracy to hack into U.S. defense contractors’ computer networks to steal sensitive military data and the fact that the Chinese military has infrastructure that can look suspiciously similar to that used by the United States. In the context of urging NATO allies to ban Chinese 5G equipment, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Summit last September that China is committing “the greatest intellectual property theft in human history.”
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Crowell & Moring invites you to attend the second installment of our Trade Secrets Webinar Series: Trade Secrets are Not Intellectual Property – At Least Not in the European Union, taking place on Tuesday, February 11th at 11:00 am (EDT).

How are trade secrets defined in the EU versus in the US?

How do the US and EU judicial bodies differ in their view of trade secrets, and how does that protect, or leave vulnerable, your company’s most valuable information?

How might cross-border (or transnational) companies protect their intellectual property assets and prepare for threats when subject to dual (EU & US) enforcement?

During this webinar, Crowell & Moring attorneys Jan-Diederik Lindemans and Judith Bussé will guide you through the small differences in the language and theory behind the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the US Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), and the important consequences these have on your trade secrets protection and strategy.

To register, please click here.
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On December 5th, 2019, Crowell & Moring’s Brussels office, in cooperation with the Belgian Institute for In-House Counsel, hosted a deep dive session into the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the changes this legal framework has brought about since it went into effect in 2016.

Crowell & Moring attorneys including Partners Jan-Diederik Lindemans and Emmanuel Plasschaert, Senior Counsel Gunther Meyer, and Associates Judith Bussé and Evelien Jamaels guided participants through best practices on maximizing protection of commercially valuable information under the legal framework, explained how it impacts companies’ relationships with employees and contractors, and finally discussed how the framework will co-exist with upcoming EU rules on whistleblowing. Participants especially appreciated the insights shared by Belgian State Security Counter-Intelligence Coordinator, L. Van Der Haeghen, about commonly used techniques to steal or otherwise unlawfully obtain trade secrets during the discussion.

Below are a few key points participants took away from the discussion:
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Chinese national and materials scientist Hongjin Tan has pled guilty to stealing from his former employer Phillips 66 (“Phillips”) more than $1 billion in trade secrets related to next generation battery technology.

DOJ announced Tan’s guilty plea this week which revealed that he copied substantial research and development files that he knew contained protected company

Crowell & Moring invites you to attend the third installment of our “Safeguarding Your Secrets in the Digital Age” webinar series: How to Work with Third-Parties, Including Those Internationally, taking place on Tuesday, November 12th at 12:00 pm (EDT).

During this webinar, Crowell & Moring Counsel Raija Horstman and Associate Judith Bussé will

After posts considering confidentiality protections under the EU Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943 when litigating in various jurisdictions, we next turn to how these issues arise in the context of arbitration.

Where trade secrets are protected by a contract, an opportunity arises for parties to consider alternative dispute resolution mechanisms including arbitration and whether to adopt express rules in arbitration that protect confidentiality.
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In our next post on the EU Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943, we turn to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the EU Trade Secrets Directive was implemented in 2018 by the Act on the Protection of Trade Secrets (Wet bescherming bedrijfsgeheimen) and led to amendments to Dutch procedural law including those related to confidentiality clubs. For example, access to alleged trade secrets introduced in proceedings is granted to at least one person of the opposing party and that party’s lawyer under confidentiality restrictions. (Article 1019ib, Dutch Code of Civil Procedure). Depending on the nature of the trade secret, however, the court may order that access to certain documents be limited to only a lawyer or another authorized representative but not a representative of the opposing party. (Article 22a(3), Dutch Code of Civil Procedure).
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The EU Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943 contains a variety of confidentiality protections expressly protecting the publicity of the proceedings because “[t]he prospect of losing the confidentiality of a trade secret in the course of legal proceedings often deters legitimate trade secret holders from instituting legal proceedings to defend their trade secrets, thus jeopardising the effectiveness of the measures, procedures and remedies provided for.  For this reason, it is necessary to establish, subject to appropriate safeguards ensuring the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial, specific requirements aimed at protecting the confidentiality of the litigated trade secret in the course of legal proceedings instituted for its defence.”  Article 9 of the Directive specifically required EU member states to implement rules creating such protections, such as by restricting access to hearings and creating so-called “confidentiality rings” or “confidentiality clubs” limiting the dissemination of confidential information and documents to designated persons.

The United Kingdom’s implementing law, the Trade Secrets (Enforcement, etc.) Regulations 2018, requires that the court have the power to restrict access to documents containing alleged trade secrets and to hearings. s. 10(5).  There is already significant maturity in the kinds of confidentiality protections available in English litigation so this is unlikely to lead to significant change.  Although the principle of open justice is a fundamental feature of the legal system and departures are permitted only if necessary in the interests of justice, exceptions and restrictions to openness and respect for confidentiality are actually already well-established in the United Kingdom. See McKillen v Misland (Cyprus) Investments Ltd and others [2012] EWHC 1158 (Ch).
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