Trade Secret Misappropriation

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

On April 21, 2020, Lex Machina released the third iteration of its annual trade secret litigation report (request the report here). Based on data from federal district court filings in Lex Machina practice areas from 2010 – 2019, the report reveals several interesting items worth highlighting.

First, trade secret cases increased by about 30% between 2015 and 2017. This is no surprise given the May 2016 passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act – the first federal statute directed at trade secrets. But, since 2017, the increase in trade secret filings has leveled off, with roughly the same number of cases in 2017, 2018, and 2019 (around 1400 in each year). Remarkably, the number of cases in these three years is within five of each other.

Second, the report provided stats for the other common causes of actions pled in trade secret cases.
Continue Reading Lex Machina Releases New Trade Secret Litigation Report

The Federal Circuit recently rejected an attempt to avoid a trade secret trial in state court by invoking federal jurisdiction under patent law. Intellisoft discovered, in the early 2010’s, that Acer had applied for a patent which incorporated its alleged trade secrets.  Intellisoft sued Acer in March 2014 in California state court asserting various state law claims, including trade secret misappropriation. The Acer patent was thus a key component of Intellisoft’s trade secret misappropriation evidence and was the subject of fact and expert discovery by both parties.

The case proceeded in state court for three years. As discovery wrapped up, one of Intellisoft’s experts opined that an Intellisoft employee – who created some aspects of the trade secrets at issue – should be named as an inventor on Acer’s patent. Additionally, a second Intellisoft expert opined that portions of the Acer patent’s claims corresponded to various Intellisoft trade secrets.
Continue Reading Patents as Evidence of Trade Secret Theft Does Not Create Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In addition to reshaping how business is being done, COVID-19 has presented companies with unprecedented challenges and an increasingly remote work force and has made it more important than ever for businesses to evaluate the security and protection of their trade secrets and confidential information.

Crowell & Moring attorneys Jim Stronski, Anne Li,

We continue our coverage of English Confidentiality Protections in Trade Secret and IP Cases by exploring a recent decision involving access of party experts to confidential information and trade secrets as part of confidentiality rings.

In Infederation Limited v Google LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 657 (Ch), Infederation Limited a/k/a Foundem – a provider of online shopping comparison services – brought a case against Google alleging Google’s search result algorithms purportedly reduced its “ranking” in violation of competition law. The parties agreed to three confidentiality rings: (1) a top “confidential” ring including the founding members of Foundem, external solicitors, counsel, and economic experts; (2) an external solicitors, counsel, and economic experts ring (the legal eyes only or “LEO” ring); and (3) a further restricted “RLEO” ring, which was 10 named external solicitors and counsel. Google made an application to strike some of Foundem’s claims in part relying on evidence related to search algorithms designated as confidential, LEO, or RLEO. In order to review and evaluate these specially designated exhibits, Foundem requested that its search engine optimization (“SEO”) expert Mr. Klöckner, who was already part of the outer confidentiality ring, be added to the LEO and RLEO rings. Google pushed back, claiming that how it ranks search results should be kept confidential or its value would be lost and that it was unlikely that Mr. Klöckner could keep the knowledge he gained from his role in the proceedings separated from his independent work as an SEO consultant. Infederation Limited v Google LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 657 (Ch) [24-26].
Continue Reading English Trade Secrets Proceedings: Experts May Be Permitted Access to Information In Confidentiality Rings

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique and unprecedented challenges to the ongoing need to protect confidential information and trade secrets. With entire workforces working remotely, employees are increasingly relying on video services to remain connected, but the increasing prevalence of video services does not come without problems. For example, Zoom Video Communications Inc. (“Zoom”) is a videoconferencing app which allows multiple people to be in the same “virtual room” at once and which has seen an uptick of users since the COVID-19 crisis. While Zoom permits employees to remain in contact, it and other video services also permit employees to use and share confidential information and trade secrets from their home. Now more than ever companies need to be extra vigilant in what platforms they allow their employees to use and how their employees use the platforms.
Continue Reading Is the Platform You’re Using a Potential Threat to Protecting Your Trade Secret?

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique and unprecedented challenges to the ongoing need to protect confidential information and trade secrets. The massive business disruptions that enterprises of all kinds now face include (1) entire workforces forced to work remotely, accessing and using confidential information and trade secrets from home; (2) exigent circumstances created by the cessation or substantial slowing of commercial activity that may result in the disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets to third parties outside normal procedures; and (3) the off-boarding of remote employees who are accessing confidential information and trade secrets remotely.

Trade secret protection may not be the immediate priority of a business facing massive business disruptions, but taking reasonable steps now to protect the security of trade secrets and confidential information is critical to the preservation of these valuable assets when this crisis is over. Trade secret law – both federal and state – requires that a trade secret holder take reasonable measures under the circumstances to protect trade secrets.1 Reasonable measures relate not only to prevention of unauthorized disclosures, but also the minimization of the impact of any such disclosures after they occur, and these measures must be reasonable now under the current exigent circumstances.
Continue Reading Trade Secret Protection During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A recent decision by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York reinforces that owners of trade secret computer programs should carefully approach copyright registration in order to maintain both copyright and trade secret protection. This includes being conscious of copyright regulations allowing the partial and redacted registration of computer code with the Copyright Office.

In a recent manifestation of this principle, Capricorn Management Systems accused GEICO of misappropriating Capricorn’s trade secret source code for medical billing software. Last week, the court granted GEICO’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the code was not entitled to trade secret protection, in part because it was registered, unredacted, with the U.S. Copyright Office, and was therefore publicly available.
Continue Reading GEICO Earns Victory at Intersection Between Copyright and Trade Secret Law Covering Source Code

Companies and other organizations increasingly must face serious and complex threats to their business and infrastructure.  Whether the threat is trade secret theft, rogue insiders, cybercrime adversaries, aggressive competitors, or misconduct by business and supply chain partners, companies should remain constantly vigilant and defense ready. Adversaries, including especially cybercriminals operating exclusively in the digital domain, are often highly motivated, sophisticated, resourced, and innovative. The opaque, pervasive, and global nature of modern digital networked environments presents opportunities for criminals. The sophistication and relentless creativity of these bad actors pose significant challenges to companies and law enforcement agencies in being able to detect, assess, mitigate, attribute, and deter these threats. Because available tools and real-world practices to address these threats often outpace the law, companies are called upon to develop their own comprehensive approaches to investigate and remediate these forms of risk. In doing so, companies must be willing to assume a certain level of risk to effectively investigate and obtain sufficient insight to counter the problems.
Continue Reading Complex Threat Investigations: Tips for Investigating Trade Secret Misappropriation and Other Digital Crimes