Trade Secret Misappropriation

On June 3, 2020, the Fourth Court of Appeals of Texas overturned a jury verdict awarding HouseCanary, Inc. (“HouseCanary”) $740 million in damages for trade secret theft and fraud against Title Source, Inc., now known as Amrock.

Amrock and HouseCanary are competitors in the real estate sector. Amrock provides title insurance, property valuations, and settlement services in real estate transactions. HouseCanary is a real estate analytics company that developed software to determine property values. HouseCanary agreed to provide this software to Amrock, and, according to HouseCanary, Amrock reversed engineered it. After the relationship between the two broke down, Amrock sued HouseCanary for breach of contract and fraud, and HouseCanary counterclaimed for breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation of trade secrets, among other claims. The jury found for HouseCanary, awarding it compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.
Continue Reading Faulty Jury Instruction Wipes Out $740 Million Verdict

On May 22, the Eleventh Circuit clarified trade secrets misappropriation analysis under the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“FUTSA”), strengthening the trade secret protection offered by the statute. The decision vacated a magistrate judge’s finding that the defendants had not misappropriated trade secretes following a bench trial in the Compulife Software Inc. v. Newman et al. matter (No. 18-12004). The court found error in the magistrate’s failure to “consider the several alternative varieties of misappropriation” contemplated by FUTSA and the magistrate’s reasoning that the public availability of life insurance quotes on the plaintiff’s website “automatically precluded a finding that scraping those quotes constituted misappropriation.”

“At its essence, it’s a case about high-tech corporate espionage,” Circuit Judge Kevin C. Newsom’s opinion begins. The plaintiff, Compulife Software Inc. (“Compulife”), sells access to its online database of insurance premium information, which synthesizes publicly available insurers’ rate tables using Compulife’s proprietary method and formula. Compulife also provides life insurance quotes sourced from its online database. The database itself is valuable because it consistently updates with current information about life insurers’ rate tables and allows for direct comparison across dozens of providers. Compulife licenses access to the database to its customers—primarily insurance agents who in turn seek to provide reliable insurance rate estimates to policyholders. In direct competition with Compulife, the defendants likewise generate life insurance quotes through their various websites.


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Solidifies Protection of Trade Secrets Threatened By “High-Tech Corporate Espionage” Under Florida’s Trade Secret Law

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

One of the more challenging questions in many complex trade secret cases is: When should a plaintiff be required to identify its alleged trade secrets, and with what level of specificity? This question is not answered by the Defend Trade Secrets Act or (in most instances) state trade secret statutes, and case law on this

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

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

Crowell & Moring invites you to attend the fifth installment of our Trade Secrets Webinar Series – The Revolving Door of Autonomous Vehicle Talent: Managing Employee Access to Trade Secrets & Facilitating Robust Investigation of Safety Issues, taking place on Tuesday, May 12th at 02:00 pm (EDT).

Autonomous Vehicle (“AV”) developers have been aggressively working to safeguard their vital design documents and data, and have increasingly relied on lawsuits to protect their proprietary information and to prevent such information from reaching their competitors as human talent continues to revolve through the AV industry. Given the increasing popularity of self-driving technology, AV developers should remain vigilant in protecting the trade secrets governing their autonomous vehicle programs and should be sure to implement sound policies for retrieving data upon employee departure.

Join Crowell & Moring attorneys Cheryl Falvey, Rukiya Mohamed, and Paul Mathis for a live discussion on trade secret and liability issues unique to AV developers as well as best practices.

To register, please click here.
Continue Reading Please Join Us for the Fifth Installment of our 2020 Webinar Series: The Revolving Door of Autonomous Vehicle Talent

The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a new light on the risk of trade secret theft to businesses worldwide from greater employee mobility associated with rising unemployment and a looming recession, cyberattacks by opportunistic hackers, and a growing remote workforce with technological threats from increased use of smart devices that may leave little to no data trail.

Companies should not only consider what to do to safeguard their trade secrets now, as explored in our earlier post on Trade Secret Protection During the COVID-19 Pandemic, but how best to create and communicate the plan for responding to any discovery of trade secret misappropriation.
Continue Reading Are You Ready to Respond to Trade Secret Theft in the COVID-19 Age?

Are non-competes still enforceable in middle of the unprecedented economic disruption caused by COVID-19? Many employers have reacted to the business impact of COVID-19 by downsizing and laying off employees, some of whom signed non-compete agreements or restrictive covenants to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests, including its trade secrets and confidential information. Those same businesses now are left wondering whether those non-compete agreements are enforceable in the wake of massive unemployment triggered by the pandemic.

The answer to this question is complex, and depends on state law, public policy, and the terms of the specific agreements. Each state scrutinizes non-competes and restrictive covenants differently and, therefore, the answer may be different depending on where the business and employee are located or the agreement’s choice of law provision.
Continue Reading Non-Compete Agreements and Restrictive Covenants During COVID-19

When does a cause of action come close enough to a trade secret claim to become preempted by the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”)? CUTSA preempts statutory and common law claims “based upon misappropriation of a trade secret.” In other words, with some exceptions, claims predicated on trade secret misappropriation allegations may only be asserted through a CUTSA claim.

California courts have articulated two different CUTSA preemption tests: (1) the “common nucleus” test and (2) the “dependence” test. In many cases, the two tests will yield the same result. Sometimes, however, the tests will produce divergent outcomes.
Continue Reading Two Tests for Trade Secret Preemption under California Law