A recent English court decision for the first time explores the overlap between trade secret claims under the EU Trade Secrets Directive 2016/943 and English equitable and common law claims for breach of confidence.

In Trailfinders Limited v Travel Counsellors Limited & Ors [2020] EWHC 591 (IPEC), travel agency Trailfinders brought a case against competitor TCL and four former employees who allegedly exploited customer lists and accessed Trailfinders’ customer database after joining TCL to exploit confidential information to their and TCL’s benefit.

In analyzing whether information taken by employees rose to the level of trade secrets, the judge turned to “the definition of ‘trade secret’ in art.2(1) of Directive 2016/943 (always bearing in mind the broad interpretation of ‘trade secret’ in the Directive).” Trailfinders Limited v Travel Counsellors Limited & Ors [2020] EWHC 591 (IPEC), [29]. Trade secrets under the EU Trade Secrets Directive, implemented in the United Kingdom by Trade Secrets (Enforcement etc.) Regulation 2018, must meet all of the following requirements: “(a) it is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question; (b) it has commercial value because it is secret; (c) it has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.” The judge recognized that there were different categories of information that employees could be exposed to during employment which were entitled to varying levels of protections.
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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].
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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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Curvature Inc. brought suit against British contractor Cantel Computer Services LTD (“Cantel”) for breach of contract, unfair and deceptive trade practices, tortious interference, and violations of the North Carolina Trade Secrets Protection Act in North Carolina Business Court, a special forum within North Carolina’s Superior Court that handles cases involving complex and significant issues of