A trade secrets spat between rival self-driving car companies WeRide Corp. and AllRide.AI Inc. has ended in settlement, but not before the Northern District of California imposed terminating sanctions against the defendant AllRide for its “staggering” spoliation of evidence when it intentionally purged emails and email accounts, wiped laptops and servers, and corrupted key source code.

The suit began in late 2018, when WeRide brought claims against Jing Wang (its former CEO), Kun Huang (its former Head of Hardware Technology), and AllRide, the competing company started by Wang and Huang. The claims included trade secrets allegations under the Defend Trade Secrets Act and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act, along with claims for defamation and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. WeRide accused Wang, who left WeRide to launch AllRide, of soliciting Huang to join him at his new company, and accused both of stealing WeRide’s trade secrets and immediately using them at AllRide. In April 2019 the Court granted WeRide a preliminary injunction that specifically prohibited Wang, Huang, and AllRide from destroying relevant documents, and ordered Huang to make several electronic devices available for inspection by WeRide. But in October 2019, WeRide moved the Court for sanctions, claiming that AllRide had destroyed emails and key source code. Central to WeRide’s motion was the accusation that AllRide had allowed its email system to continue to implement a 90-day automatic deletion policy, resulting in the destruction of thousands of potentially relevant emails. WeRide also accused AllRide of deleting six email accounts and the source code it supposedly developed to compete with WeRide.
Continue Reading Autonomous Vehicle Competitors Resolve Trade Secrets Case Colored by “Staggering” Spoliation

Plaintiffs wishing to sue for patent, copyright, or trademark infringement all have one thing in common: they must prove they own the IP at issue. Not so for trade secrets. Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act only requires a plaintiff to lawfully possess, rather than formally own, the trade secrets it wishes to vindicate. With this opinion, the Third Circuit affirmed a district court decision awarding $3.5 million in damages and fees to NASA subcontractor Applied Fluid Systems Inc. (“AFS”) in its suit for trade secret misappropriation.

The “sorry story of disloyalty and deception piled upon deception” began in 2009, when AFS entered into a three-year contract with the Virginia Commonwealth Space Flight Authority (the “Authority”) to build, install, and maintain a hydraulic system for a NASA rocket launch facility. However, the Authority experienced financial difficulty, and eventually had to cede control of the launch system to a private entity, Orbital Sciences Corp. (“Orbital”). Through this acquisition, Orbital inherited the AFS contract. Importantly, the initial contract between AFS and the Authority made any materials generated by AFS for the Authority the property of the Authority.
Continue Reading A Story of Disloyalty and Deception: The Third Circuit Chimes in on Ownership Requirements in Trade Secrets Act Cases

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

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 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?

Companies sometimes discover warning signs or clear activity of trade secret theft but do not know how to deal with the issue right away.  Whether it is a current employee who remotely accesses company trade secret information while on vacation, or a departing employee who conveniently failed to return a company laptop, that company may be heading toward eventual trade secret litigation. But the immediate path forward seems unclear and presents so many options of what to do. Because the hours and days after discovery of a potential trade secret theft are extremely important, we suggest a simple set of best practices for responding to that potential trade secret theft: 1) understand the issue, 2) contain the issue, 3) exhaust the issue, and 4) consider bringing the issue to court.
Continue Reading Best Practices for Responding to Potential Trade Secret Theft