Not surprisingly given the hundreds of billions of dollars of American intellectual property lost to China each year, trade secret theft and China is a hot topic for the public and private sector alike.
In Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Epic Systems Corp. (“Epic”) filed a case in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin accusing Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (“TCS”) of stealing documents and confidential information related to software applications performing billing, insurance benefits management, and referral services for health care companies.
In 2016, a federal jury ruled in Epic’s favor on all claims, ordered TCS to pay $140 million for uses of the comparative analysis, $100 million for uses of “other” confidential information, and $700 million in punitive damages. We reported on the jury verdict here and permanent injunction here. The district court later struck the compensatory award for “other uses” and reduced the punitive damages award from $700 million to $280 million because of a Wisconsin statute capping punitive damages at two times compensatory damages. See Wis. Stat. § 895.043(6).
Shortly thereafter, both TCS and Epic appealed the verdict – TCS challenged the punitive damages decision and Epic appealed the decision to vacate the $100 million award relating to uses of “other” confidential information. On August 20, 2020, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion which reduced the punitive damages amount, but upheld the jury’s $140 million verdict. The Seventh Circuit held that TCS gained an advantage in its development and competition from its use of the comparative analysis and stolen information and that “the jury would have a sufficient basis to award Epic $140 million in compensatory damages” based on TCS’s use of Epic’s information to make a comparative analysis. In addition, the Seventh Circuit concluded that Epic did not provide “more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of its theory that TCS used any other confidential information” such that the $100 million award could not stand.…
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Upholds $140 Million Compensatory Damages Award and Caps Punitive Damages at $140 Million in Trade Secret Case
On September 2, 2020, a Southern District of California judge granted Defendant Road Runner Sports, Inc.’s motion to dismiss, finding that Plaintiff, Profade Apparel, LLC, failed to state a trade secret misappropriation claim under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”).
At Road Runner’s request, Profade designed a “Trigonomic Arch Support Sock” for sale in Road Runner running stores. But, after ordering just a few small batches of the socks, Road Runner allegedly stopped buying the socks from Profade. According to Profade, Road Runner then contracted with a separate vendor to manufacture socks using Profade’s design.
In asserting a DTSA claim, Profade described its trade secrets as “proprietary and confidential information regarding the development, design, and manufacture of the Trigonomic Arch Support Sock.” It also claimed Road Runner misappropriated the “roadmap” for producing the Trigonomic Arch Support Sock. To support these allegations, Profade attached a contract between the parties to its complaint. The contract contemplated the parties exchanging confidential information relating to the socks’ design and production.…
Continue Reading Beep, Beep: Road Runner Escapes DTSA Claim, for Now
On August 6, 2020, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) released a public version of the Final Initial Determination (“ID”) in the Matter of Botulinum Toxin Products (Inv. No. 337-TA-1145), that, if upheld by the ITC Commission, might signal an expansive view of the ITC’s territorial jurisdiction and the scope of trade secret protection. The ITC’s jurisdiction in trade secret investigations is limited to matters that destroy or substantially injure a “domestic industry in the United States.” An interesting aspect of the ID is that it recommends banning importation of a Botox-competitor product (Jeuveau®) that was found to incorporate misappropriated trade secrets of a foreign Complainant whose domestic licensee and Co-Complainant have yet to make any sales of that product in the United States. The ID also found “domestic injury” based on the licensee’s industry, not the licensed trade secret’s industry. The Commission will issue a final decision in November.…
Continue Reading ITC Administrative Law Judge Decision Implicates Scope of Trade Secret Protections
It’s no secret that trade secret litigation can be expensive. Whether you are bringing a lawsuit to protect your crown jewels or defending against alleged trade secret misappropriation, we offer some useful strategies for managing and mitigating costs in trade secret litigation:
- Get Ready, Go! Identifying trade secret misappropriation is only the beginning of the story. Well before filing a trade secret lawsuit, plaintiffs must work to locate relevant documents, interview witnesses with knowledge, identify the trade secrets at issue, and explore strategic considerations including the appropriate venue, the applicable law, and legal claims including related breach of contract and common law claims. Defending against a trade secret case requires getting up to speed quickly, identifying key defenses, and often rapidly preparing oppositions to requests for injunctive relief or expedited discovery.
- Budget Wisely. Trade secret litigation can move quickly from complaint to emergency injunctive relief or stretch on for years when mired in contentious discovery disputes or debates over the nature and contour of often technical or complex trade secrets. Budgeting clearly from the start ensures that litigation goals are met and cost expectations are understood. Proposed budgets should include breakdowns of (1) staffing, including level, location, years of experience, expected work, hourly rate, and projected hours for each team member; (2) forecasting fees and costs at each phase and expected milestone throughout the life of a trade secrets litigation, (3) regular interim updates in addition to year-to-date or matter-to-date costs and fees, and (4) assumptions or limitations built into the budget. Electronic task management systems can collect data on billing unique to each phase of the litigation or milestones such as resolution of initial injunctive relief or preparing trade secret identification to stay on track with budgeted goals. Planning for unexpected budget excesses, which may occur due to early disputes over trade secret identification or early expedited discovery, help manage expectations and avoid rejection of invoices. We provide tips for creating and maintaining a budget in Crowell’s Legal Project Management Guidebook.
- Don’t Lose Sight of Discovery Costs. Discovery can be the single most expensive phase of any litigation so keeping a close eye on these costs can lead to big savings.
A new lawsuit in the medical marijuana industry raises questions about the enforceability of noncompetes under Massachusetts’ new statute. On August 26, 2020, Alternative Compassion Services, Inc., (“ACS”) filed a federal lawsuit against its former Chief Operating Officer, Defendant Matthew Radebach (“Radebach”).…
Continue Reading Pot Got Your Tongue? Company Alleges Former COO Disclosed Trade Secrets to Competitors
On July 21, 2020, the First Circuit clarified the high burden that a plaintiff faces when asserting that certain types of business materials are protected trade secrets. In TLS Mgmt. & Mktg. Servs., LLC v. Rodriguez-Toledo, No. 19-1104, 2020 WL 4187246, at *6 (1st Cir. July 21, 2020), the court reversed a district court’s bench trial verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a trade secret misappropriation case on the ground that the business materials at issue did not constitute trade secrets. Plaintiff TLS Management and Marketing Services, LLC, a Puerto Rico-based tax planning and consulting firm, argued that the defendants misappropriated two of its protectable trade secrets: (1) a portion of its “Capital Preservation Reports,” which contained tax recommendations specific to an individual TLS client based on an analysis of applicable statutes and regulations; and (2) its “U.S. Possession Strategy,” which consisted of a scheme that would allow Plaintiff’s clients to take advantage of a lower tax rate on outsourced services by contracting with Plaintiff and buying its shares.
Defendant Rodriguez-Toledo was the founder of Plaintiff’s competitor, Defendant ASG Accounting Solutions Group, Inc., and for some time worked for Plaintiff TLS as a Managing Director under a subcontract between Plaintiff and ASG. After departing from TLS, Rodriguez-Toledo provided tax advice to Plaintiff’s former clients regarding how to avoid certain tax penalties triggered by terminating their relationships with TLS, which TLS’s U.S. Possession Strategy was also intended to avoid. Rodriguez-Toledo also allegedly downloaded the Capital Preservation Reports from TLS’s Dropbox account without authorization before he left TLS. TLS filed suit against both ASG and Rodriguez-Toledo for misappropriation of the two trade secrets and violation of a nondisclosure agreement. The district court found they had misappropriated both trade secrets following a bench trial, and the defendants appealed.
Continue Reading First Circuit Reverses Misappropriation Verdict, Citing Lack of Specificity
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
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a Step-by-Step Guide for Determining if Commercial or Financial Information Obtained from a Person is Confidential Under Exemption 4 of the FOIA. The Step-by-Step Guide is used by agencies, in conjunction with guidance from the Office of Information Policy (“OIP”) to determine whether commercial or financial information provided by a person is “confidential” under FOIA Exemption 4. FOIA Exemption 4 protects trade secrets and commercial information that is privileged or confidential. The DOJ Guidance is another tool that can be used by practitioners to determine when information must be disclosed under a FOIA Request.
The DOJ Guidance followed on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media (described in a previous blog post) where the Supreme Court addressed the question of “when does information provided to a federal agency qualify as confidential.” The Supreme Court held that information is confidential and protected if: (1) the information is “customarily kept private, or at least closely held” and (2) where the receiving party provides “some assurance” that the information will be kept secret.
The DOJ Guidance outlines three questions to help determine if information is confidential under FOIA Exemption 4.…
Continue Reading DOJ Step-by-Step Guidance to Determine if Trade Secrets are Confidential Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
This week, the U.S. government continued its enforcement activity against Chinese government-sponsored trade secret theft, indicting two Chinese hackers for allegedly stealing data from 25 domestic and international companies, including targeting those now researching COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and treatment. The two defendants had allegedly acquired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and other valuable business information across a span of nearly eleven years. This announcement follows in the wake of the indictment of Dr. Charles Lieber, a former Harvard professor, who allegedly lied about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan,” a program that has been accused of facilitating the stealing of American trade secrets. Our coverage of that indictment is here.
On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced charges against Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi in the Eastern District of Washington, alleging that they hacked the computer networks of 13 United States and 12 international companies in industries ranging from high tech manufacturing and medical device engineering to solar energy and pharmaceuticals, all between September 2009 and July 2020. …
Continue Reading DOJ Targets Chinese Hackers for Stealing United States Trade Secrets