Reports of the Trade Secret Litigator’s death have been greatly exaggerated and in fact, I was spotted on Tuesday at the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Trade Secrets Summit in Washington, D.C. For those unable to attend, I thought a quick wrap up of the high points of the day’s excellent content would be helpful.
Seyfarth’s Robert Milligan, David Rikker of Raytheon, Mark Mermelstein of Orrick and Christian Scali of The Scali Firm started out the day addressing the dynamics of trade secret litigation, focusing on the key points in successfully managing the in-house/outside counsel relationship. The panel covered an awful lot of ground, but the high points included:
Cease and Desist Letters: The consensus seemed to be that they may be more trouble than they are worth. Each of the outside counsel panelists emphasized the importance of accuracy and timing, as there is always the risk that a client’s investigation may not be complete at the time of drafting the letter. However, the letters can achieve their initial desired effect as David Rikker says Raytheon takes them seriously.
Ex parte TROs: No surprise here, the panel agreed that they are rarely granted except for preservation orders where there are egregious facts giving rise to concerns over spoliation or destruction of evidence.
Special Dangers of Motions to Seal: Protective orders are no longer perfunctory and the panel reported that they are increasingly seeing defendants oppose motions to place trade secrets under seal as defendants use the protective order as an opportunity to lay out their objections to the bona fides of those trade secrets. Robert Milligan said they have almost become the equivalent of summary judgment disputes in California. Of course, the consequences of denial of a motion can be catastrophic so the panel emphasized the importance of making your record for an appeal to preserve your trade secrets.
Criminal Referral: Mark Mermelstein spoke about the advantages of initiating a criminal investigation as opposed to a civil claim. Those pros include the fact that the government can, among other things, use false identities to gather evidence from the potential defendant (civil lawyers are prohibited by the ethical rules from using those means), issue a 2703 order to secure the identities for an ISP address associated with misappropriation or cybertheft, and ultimately issue a search warrant if necessary. Mark also noted that the federal government also can rely on multi-lateral treaties to enlist the help of foreign law enforcement. Finally, Mark observed that a criminal proceeding can be the most effective way of collecting ill-gotten gains as the leverage of jail time may persuade potential defendants to repatriate those moneys.
Mark did identify several reasons why a company may not want to pursue a criminal option. The law of unintended consequences may reign, particularly as the client will ultimately lose control of any criminal investigation to the prosecutors or federal authorities. Fall out could also include damage to customer relationships, since some of those customers could be ensnared as witnesses or even targets. Finally, for publicly-held companies, depending on the scope of the breach and the resulting publicity, a public investigation and prosecution could affect share price or lead to shareholder litigation.
Best Practices for Keeping In-House Counsel Happy: David Rikker listed the following best practices for a healthy counsel relationship: clear and timely communication, helping in-house counsel get the business unit’s buy-in for any investigation or litigation, thorough early case assessment to help manage expectations, and, not surprisingly, no surprises! David emphasized the importance of an early case assessment that includes looking at the pros and cons of a prosecution or litigation. He acknowledged that in-house counsel appreciate that outside lawyers cannot anticipate every eventuality but a frank conversation of uncertainty is important, particularly for the business unit personnel.
On-Boarding: The issue of on-boarding is growing in importance as more companies are hiring people with restrictive covenants or trying to mitigate their risk from trade secret fall out. Robert put together a highly entertaining video of what companies should not do (that video, along with one addressing best practices for on-boarding is available on Youtube and I will provide a link in a future post). All of the outside lawyers emphasized the importance of getting the prospective employee’s written employment agreements as part of the hiring process. From the in-house perspective, David Rikker emphasized the need for a culture of ethics and responsibility — that a company has to make clear that it is not soliciting its competitors’ trade secrets when it hires new employees, and that after hiring, new employees need to understand that they have to keep those trade secrets out of the new employer’s environment.
Off-Boarding: As time was winding down, the panel did not have the opportunity to comprehensively address best practices in the departing employee context. David noted the need for clear rules on, among other things, thumb drive use, third party storage and use of DropBox. Above all, he emphasized the importance of a culture of responsibility.
I will follow up with another post summarizing the rest of the day’s discussions. The content and speakers were generally superb and a special shout out is warranted to Peter Torren of Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, Seth Hudson of Clements Bernard, Orrick’s Warrington Parker and Intel’s Janet Craycroft for their efforts in putting this together for the AIPLA’s Trade Secret Law Committee.