Trade Secrets Law Blog

During the Obama Administration, American foreign policy made a strategic “pivot” to Asia with the goal of establishing a more balanced economic, diplomatic, and security-focused approach and relationship between the U.S. and the region that would serve as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence (see, e.g., the Trans-Pacific Partnership). But over the last four years, the Trump Administration did its own pivot, challenging China head-on, forcefully and aggressively. In implementing its China policy, the administration cracked down on “bad actor” companies with ties to the Chinese government accused of stealing trade secrets and intellectual property belonging to American companies,…
Trade secrets and other proprietary information can be among a business’ most valuable assets and drive its competitive advantage.  It is therefore ordinarily critical that employees be bound by an enforceable agreement that prohibits them from misusing or otherwise harming the value of the employer’s confidential information.  The recent California Court of Appeal decision, Brown v. TSG Management Co., LLC (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 303, should be of concern to employers because it holds that an employee confidentiality agreement may be voided as a de facto unlawful non-compete agreement if it has the effect of preventing the employee from working in…
The Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), enacted in 2016, created a federal right of action for misappropriation of trade secrets. The Ninth Circuit recently addressed for the first time whether a DTSA claim may be brought against misconduct predating the enactment of the DTSA.  The Ninth Circuit held that it could, so long as the misappropriation continued until after the enactment of the DTSA.  See Attia v. Google LLC, — F.3d —, 2020 WL 7380256 (9th Cir. 2020).   In Attia, plaintiff Eli Attia developed a new architecture technology called Engineered Architecture (“EA”).  In July 2010, Google approached Attia about…
Employment agreements with restrictive covenants typically contain both a forum selection clause, which determines the forum where a dispute must be heard, and a choice of law clause, which determines the law that applies to the dispute. As lawyers who regularly litigate post-employment restrictive covenant cases well know, enforcement or restrictive covenants often turns on which court decides the dispute, and what law applies, which is why these provisions are so important.  Often, however, employers consider these provisions as mere drafting afterthoughts.  They shouldn’t be, given the outsized importance they can play in determining enforcement.  Moreover, at the dispute stage…
Courts often require a plaintiff to identify a trade secret with reasonable particularity before commencing discovery (and it is a statutory obligation in California).  But frequently a trade-secret plaintiff does not know precisely which trade secrets have been taken by the defendant before discovery commences.  In the recent Ninth Circuit decision InteliClear v. ETC Global Holdings (9th Cir. Oct. 15, 2020), the appellate court held that, under its particular circumstances, a plaintiff who had not adequately specified its trade secrets at issue should nevertheless be permitted to engage in discovery for this purpose, where the plaintiff had shown discovery could provide…
On September 21, 2020, in a published 2-1 opinion in Doe v. Google Inc., the California Court of Appeal (Dist. 1, Div. 4), permitted three current and former Google employees to proceed with their challenge of Google’s confidentiality agreement as unlawfully overbroad and anti-competitive under the California Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) (Lab. Code § 2698 et seq.).  In doing so, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order sustaining Google’s demurrer on the basis of preemption by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) (29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.) under San Diego Bldg. Trades
Grounded in California’s recognized hostility against restraints on competition, a recently published opinion from the California Court of Appeal, Hooked Media Grp., Inc. v. Apple Inc.[1], held that to establish trade secret misappropriation under California law,[2] it is not enough to show that the defendant has knowledge of the plaintiff’s trade secrets. Rather, in addition to proving that the subject information constitutes a trade secret,[3] the plaintiff must prove that the defendant improperly acquired or actually used the information. The ruling should be of interest to both former and new employers, as we explain below. Hooked…
Why should companies considering trade secret litigation consider their patent portfolios?  After all, trade secrets, by definition, are secret.  They have value in the marketplace by virtue of not being disclosed.  And like the formula for Coca-Cola, that value can continue perpetually as long as the secrecy of trade secrets is maintained.  Patents, on the other hand, represent a limited monopoly granted to the patent-holder in exchange for an enabling disclosure of the patented invention, a disclosure sufficient to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention.  Of course, this public disclosure requirement for patentability destroys secrecy. …
On September 2, 2020, the Fifth Circuit declined to void a fee award of nearly $2.3 million in favor of an employer that had prevailed on its trade secret theft claim against its former employee, because the employee willfully failed to comply with the bankruptcy court’s “extremely explicit” order regarding his objections to the award. Background Based on its belief that employee Christopher Ridgeway (“Ridgeway”) intended to use its confidential business information at his next job, Stryker Corporation (“Stryker”) filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets in violation…
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States and Americans anxiously await the arrival of a vaccine, biotech companies are grappling with the uncertainty of patent protection for COVID related biomedical advances and, as a result, are turning to trade secret protection instead.  For policy-makers looking to incentivize the search for the magic bullet of an effective vaccine, this raises tough questions:  What is the best policy or mix of policies to incentivize industry and stimulate a rapid, effective vaccine?  And should that policy tilt towards sharing information or towards protecting monetary incentives?  This article addresses the limitations on…
As if 2020 hasn’t caused enough hardship and headaches for employers already, the FBI and U.S. Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) recently issued a joint Cybersecurity Advisory Alert warning employers about the rise in voice phishing, or “vishing,” scams targeting remote workers. With the mass shift to large-scale work-from-home environments, cybercriminals and hacker groups are employing increasingly creative tactics to take advantage of weakened security protocols and overly trusting employees.  Before the pandemic and the sudden increase in remote workforces, vishing scams were not uncommon.  However, they were largely targeted at vulnerable individuals and/or via personal attacks, such as a…
Business-to-business contracts often concern trade secrets. Contracts such as NDAs, joint development agreements, license agreements, vendor agreements, and other commercial agreements commonly contain restrictive covenants relating to the protection of trade secrets or other protectible interests. But when do these terms constitute an illicit restraint of trade under California law? The California Supreme Court just addressed this very question in Ixchel Pharma v. Biogen , holding that most B2B agreements are governed by the common law rule of reason, instead of the flat prohibition on noncompetes applicable to the employment context. Ixchel and Forward Pharma entered into an agreement to…
As previously noted in this forum: “[p]reservation of electronically stored evidence (ESI) may be critical in trade secret cases.”  See 3 Steps in Furtherance of Avoiding Devastating Spoliation Sanctions in Trade Secrets Misappropriation Litigation.  This is true for both plaintiffs and defendants, as the fate of modern trade secrets claims regularly turns on the existence or absence of a digital trail left by the accused appropriator.  Given the often transitory nature of this evidence, potential litigants must carefully and proactively preserve it in order to mount an effective case or defense.  This is especially true for early-stage entities with…
Given the prevalence of trade secret misappropriation litigation among members of the fashion, beauty, and retail industry, those in that industry should (1) take care to protect their trade secrets from misuse by others and (2) consider steps to try to reduce the risk of misappropriation claims against them by others.  Both situations – loss of a valuable trade secret and burdensome litigation – can be devastating to a business.  We offer here some potential measures that businesses can take to attempt to avoid such undesirable situations. A common scenario which gives rise to misappropriation claims is the termination of:…
While traditionally healthcare businesses have tended to look to patent protection, it would behoove them to also think about trade secret protection to protect their valuable inventions.  Given the financial strains on businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses may find trade secret protection a cost-efficient alternative to the patent process. Trade secret enforcement also potentially can yield hundreds of millions, sometimes even over a billion, dollars for the trade secret holder.[1] Further, patent protection is not always available.[2] Potential Trade Secrets In The Healthcare Industry While the definition may vary somewhat across jurisdictions, a trade secret generally…
Non-compete, proprietary information, and confidentiality agreements often contain forum selection provisions, which specify where any related litigation must be brought.  But what is to happen when the underlying agreements contain different forum selection provisions?  A United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana recently addressed this very issue, and held that in such cases, a court must decide for itself which proposed forum has the greater connection to the underlying dispute by focusing on just the facts.  See High Tech Nat’l, LLC v. Wiener, No. 119-CV-02489-SEB-MJD (S.D. Ind. Nov. 26, 2019). In High Tech, the plaintiffs—a mobile…