Located in the heart of Europe, Belgium is a true hub of logistics and innovation. It is for example home to one of Europe’s largest sea ports (with all the warehousing infrastructure that one would expect). Belgium also hosts several, globally leading biotech and life sciences clusters. It is no coincidence for example that pharma giant Pfizer has one of its largest production and packaging sites in Puurs, a small Belgian town, where it produces its Covid-19 vaccine. A few miles north, Jansen Pharmaceuticals has its HQ.

Such hubs are not just rich in talented human resources, but also in cutting edge and highly valuable know-how. A high concentration of know-how, combined with the increased mobility of employees, means a high(er) risk of misappropriation of this valuable information by unauthorized (third) parties. When a (foreign) company suspects its know-how has been misappropriated in Belgium, it will need evidence to substantiate this allegation in court. If the know-how is (also) covered by an intellectual property (IP) right, the holder of the know-how has access to a very efficient means of collecting evidence: the descriptive counterfeit seizure whereby discovery-like evidentiary measures will be granted ex parte. When the misappropriated know-how is only protected as a trade secret, no similar measures are provided for under EU law. The Belgian judges have therefore in the past not been very eager to grant trade secret holders access to ex parte evidence-gathering. With a recent judgment, however, the Brussels Court of Appeal has left the door behind which discovery-like measures are stored for holders of trade secrets open.


Continue Reading Gathering evidence of trade secret infringement in Belgium: towards discovery-like measures?

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.
Continue Reading English Court Addresses Intersection of Trade Secrets Directive and Common Law Breach of Confidence Claims

On October 4, 2015 the trade ministers of Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam announced that they concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). After more than five years of intensive negotiations, these countries representing a combined market of nearly 800 million people agreed to provide, among other things, enhanced protection for trade secrets, as well as efficient enforcement systems for commercial-scale trademark counterfeiting, copyright infringement, or related piracy.
Continue Reading Reports on the TPP Agreement Suggest Focus on Criminal Law to Strengthen Trade Secret Protection

The European lawmaker’s work on the draft Trade Secrets Directive, intended to create a uniform legal basis for the protection of trade secrets in the European Union, has entered the finishing straight. The proposal has been and still is subject to much debate at the highest policy and lawmaking level. There are indeed still quite some obstacles to overcome before the Trade Secrets Directive can become a reality rather than merely a draft. In this contribution I will discuss some of the frequently heard arguments for not going through with this project. In my opinion these arguments do not hold good and should not convince the members of the European Parliament to vote against the draft Trade Secrets Directive.

EU
[via Flickr user Thijs ter Haar]

In the past many authors/speakers, including yours truly, have identified several issues and weaknesses in the initial text proposed by the European Commission and even in the text that was proposed by the European Council (despite significant improvements). My criticism has predominantly focused on the shortcomings of the draft Trade Secrets Directive in relation to enforcing the rights granted by the directive. For example: 

  • The draft does not contain any provisions with respect to pre-trial discovery or other means of finding and preserving evidence of trade secrets theft/misappropriation.
  • Despite the European Commission’s ambition to provide SMEs, often struggling to develop and in particular enforce a patent portfolio, a means to protect themselves, there is no provision dealing with the recovery of legal fees and costs for the party prevailing in trade secrets litigation.
  • Recovery of legal fees and costs would also offer protection to any party that is unlawfully subjected to trade secrets proceedings.
  • What will be the cross-border effect of a decision finding infringement in one EU member state? Wouldn’t reversing the burden of proof in that event be an efficient way to avoid a multiplication of court proceedings in different EU member states?


Continue Reading The Future of Trade Secret Protection in the EU: A Bird in The Hand is Still Worth Two in The Bush