Non-Compete Agreements

It’s the time of year again when we are taking a look at 2021’s top ten most read posts. This year, we witnessed an increased risk of trade secret theft due to the Great Resignation, proposed trade secret misappropriation penalties as a result of Chinese government trade secret espionage, and the expansion of ITC involvement in trade secret misappropriation. Take a look at our top ten posts that highlight these key developments.

Continue Reading The Year’s Most Popular Posts

On October 29, 2021, the District of Delaware allowed Park Lawn Corporation to continue with its trade secret claims against fellow cemetery management competitor, PlotBox, Inc., holding that the competitor only needed to have a “reason to know” improper means were used to access alleged trade secrets, based on the position of the individual feeding them the secrets.

Both Park Lawn and PlotBox develop technological solutions to manage cemetery plot placement methods, using software to facilitate mapping of gravestones electronically. This software helps automate cemetery design plans and expedites managerial tasks. The lawsuit also states that Park Lawn planned to license the trade secrets in the software to others in the industry. This plan was eventually disrupted by the Chief Executive Officer of Park Lawn, who was allegedly feeding the trade secret information to PlotBox, which also tried to hire on Park Lawn’s Chief Technology Officer. Park Lawn sued under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”).
Continue Reading Cemetery Company’s Trade Secret Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss by Reasonable Interference of Misappropriation after CEO Fed Competitor Information

On November 23rd, Pfizer filed a complaint against former employee Chun Xiao “Sherry” Li in a California federal court alleging that Li pilfered over 12,000 files worth of critical documents and trade secrets. U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted Pfizer’s motion for a temporary restraining order barring Li from using, disclosing or transmitting any confidential information or trade secrets owned by Pfizer, destroying or altering any of that information or destroying any devices storing the information. Li also must return any hard copy documents containing Pfizer’s confidential information or trade secrets, Judge Bencivengo said.

Hired as associate director of statistics in Pfizer’s global product development group at Pfizer’s facility in La Jolla, California in 2006, Li sought greener pastures at Xencor Inc. in 2021. Perhaps in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, Li treated herself to a parting gift of what Pfizer calls its clinical “playbook.” Its complaint also cited misappropriation of documents containing operational goals, goals for various drugs including cancer drugs, clinical development plans and clinical trial techniques.
Continue Reading Bad Medicine: Pfizer Files Complaint to Halt Potential COVID-Related Trade Secret Misappropriation

Illinois employers planning to protect confidential and proprietary trade secret information through the use of non-compete agreements or non-solicitation agreements need to be aware of amendments to the Illinois Freedom to Work Act that will take effect on January 1, 2022.  These changes will institute a number of new requirements designed to restrict the use of non-compete and non-solicitation agreements.

Illinois law currently prohibits employers from requiring that workers earning less than $13 per hour sign non-compete agreements.  That threshold is about to change.  The law will instead prohibit the use of non-competes with workers earning less than $75,000 annually, and the minimum threshold will increase at various pre-determined dates.  The minimum amount will rise to $80,00 per year on January 1, 2027, $85,000 per year on January 1, 2032, and $90,000 per year on January 1, 2037.
Continue Reading Illinois Amends Requirements for Non-Compete Agreements

Following a national trend that we previously posted about, Illinois recently passed legislation to further restrict the use of non-compete agreements against low-wage workers.  Under the previous version of the Illinois Freedom to Work Act, employers were prohibited from entering into non-compete agreements with employees making less than $13 per hour.  The new version expands this restriction to include employees earning $75,000 or less and defines “earnings” to include salary, bonus, and other forms of taxable income.  In addition, the amendment prohibits employers from entering into non-solicitation agreements with employees making $45,000 or less annually.

Continue Reading Illinois Law Imposes New Restrictions on Non-Compete Agreements

Virginia recently joined a growing list of states that have passed legislation prohibiting employers from enforcing non-compete agreements against low-wage employees.  Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington have already enacted similar legislation.  And as we previously posted, similar legislation was introduced in the United States Senate nearly a year ago, though it did not advance.  The trend reflects recognition among policy makers that non-compete agreements may unfairly restrict low-wage workers, who generally have limited bargaining power with respect to employers, from seeking new employment opportunities.

Continue Reading Virginia Joins States That Restrict Use of Non-Compete Agreements

A Kansas District Court judge recently dismissed a trade secrets misappropriation action between two competing livestock nutrition companies.

In Biomin Am. Inc. v. Lesaffre Yeast Corp., Plaintiff Biomin America, Inc. (“Biomin”) sued competitor Lesaffre Yeast Corporation (“Lesaffre”) and two former Biomin employees who now work for Lesaffre, asserting trade secret misappropriation under the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, 18 U.S.C. § 1836 (“DTSA”) as well as a handful of state law claims, including breach of contract, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and unfair competition.

Specifically, Biomin alleged that the two employees misappropriated trade secrets and violated restrictive covenants contained within their Biomin employment agreements by soliciting Biomin employees and customers and marketing Lesaffre’s competing products at a lower price.
Continue Reading Livestock Feed Trade Secrets Case Put Out to Pasture

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