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)

China’s National People’s Congress has released a draft law for comment that would impose harsher criminal penalties for any trade secret theft from Chinese companies that benefits foreign companies.

China’s current law imposes a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment for “serious” instances and 10 years for “particularly serious” instances of trade secret theft. The proposed law would impose harsher sentences for trade secret theft benefiting a foreign entity, resulting in 5 years for “serious” instances and a minimum of 5 years with no maximum for “particularly serious” instances.
Continue Reading China Proposes Harsher Penalties for Trade Secret Theft in Draft Amendment

Companies looking to protect valuable trade secrets and confidential information routinely employ multiple precautions ranging from employee training to technological safeguards.

Another potential tool in the arsenal, and worth careful consideration for companies operating in the government contract space, is the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) recently released final public draft of enhanced security requirements. NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-172, formerly known as Draft NIST SP 800-171B, provides 34 enhanced requirements to protect Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) associated with critical programs or high value assets from the risks posed by advanced persistent threats (APTs).
Continue Reading Companies Protecting Trade Secrets Should Consider Role of NIST’s Enhanced Security Requirements

A recent case is a helpful reminder to companies with valuable intellectual property to be diligent in protecting trade secrets and monitoring compliance by employees with access to this confidential information.

On June 15, 2020, Ryan, LLC (“Ryan”) filed a lawsuit in Texas state court against S.K. Thakkar (“Thakkar”), who was employed by a company acquired by Ryan, and Ernst & Young, LLP (“Ernst & Young”), his new employer, seeking a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction based on alleged (1) trade secret misappropriation, (2) tortious interference with contract, and (3) breach of contract.
Continue Reading Misappropriation Claims Brought Over Tax Trade Secrets

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

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 20, 2020, the Supreme Court granted cert in Van Buren v. United States, to resolve an important circuit split over the meaning of “authorized access” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). This is the Court’s first foray into analyzing the precise contours of CFAA liability. Van Buren may have far-reaching implications for any individual or business operating in the digital domain, as the scope of civil and criminal liability under the CFAA can impact just about any sort of relationship involving access to computer systems, whether it be employer-employee relationships or third-party relationships.

The CFAA was enacted in 1986 as a first-of-its-kind statute designed to combat computer-related crimes, and has become an important and powerful tool for not only for the government but any business seeking to protect its intellectual property and computer systems. The CFAA imposes criminal liability on any person who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization” or “exceeds authorized access” and, in doing so, obtains information from any protected computer. The CFAA also provides a civil cause of action for similar conduct. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2), 1030(a)(4), 1030(a)(5)(B)-(C).
Continue Reading “Authorized Access”: The Supreme Court’s First Foray Into The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

In an effort to further combat the international theft of intellectual property, the U.S. government has taken multiple steps to restrict certain companies’ ability to operate within the United States and to prevent those companies from profiting off of their illegal activities. The governmental activity also underscored the increasingly important role that tech companies have in the administration’s national security policies.

Earlier this year, the President signed into law. H.R. 4998, the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (‘the Legislation”), which prohibits certain Federal subsidies from being used to purchase communications equipment or services from Huawei and other providers that are deemed to pose a risk to national security.
Continue Reading Tech Companies, National Security, Trade Secrets, and the Increased Controls on the Export of Emerging Technologies

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?

As autonomous vehicles quickly move farther towards the mainstream, the underlying technology has become increasingly more valuable and has led to an uptick in the theft of autonomous vehicle (“AV”) trade secrets. Indeed, criminal prosecutions of former employees for trade secret theft have been on the rise, especially in the autonomous vehicle segment. Two recent cases underscore the enforcement agencies’ efforts to stem the rise in trade secret theft in the AV segment. Anthony Scott Levandowski was a former executive at both Uber and Google. He departed Google and created a new company named Ottomotto, LLC that was later purchased by Uber. Levandowski pled guilty to theft of trade secrets from Google, admitting that he downloaded approximately 14,000 files from an internal, password-protected Google server to his personal laptop, including a key internal tracking document from Google that detailed the status of its self-driving car program. Levandowki faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and $250,000 fine plus restitution.
Continue Reading Prosecutions of Trade Secret Theft by Former Employees in Autonomous Vehicle Development