Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

I had a trial this month, so I was delayed in my wrap up of noteworthy developments from November.  Here they are:

Noteworthy Defend Trade Secrets Act Cases, Federal Trade Secrets Opinions and Related Commentary:

  • Who would have thought a case about broccoli seeds could sprout so many interesting legal issues?  Certainly not me.  But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit just issued an opinion in Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc., that is, to quote the jurist Robert Bork, a veritable “intellectual feast” of trade secret issues.  In the culmination of a nearly-decade long dispute, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the verdict and several rulings by the district court about the viability of trade secrets arising from the collective research for those broccoli seeds.  The opinion is worth reading for several reasons.  In particular, the opinion provides guidance on what needs to be shown to assert a combination trade secret, which is a trade secret composed of multiple publicly available elements.  The Sixth Circuit held that because a combination trade secret has those publicly available elements, the trade secret owner must make an additional showing that the combination trade secret is unique, a requirement normally not imposed on other trade secrets.  The opinion is also noteworthy for its analysis of what needs to be shown for misappropriation of a combination trade secret as well for its analysis of the damages related to the defendant’s saved costs in connection with the research and development of those broccoli seeds.  For other takes on the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, check out Anthony Ferrara’s post for McDermott Will & Emery’s trade secrets section for its IP Update Blog and Siena Sylvester’s post for Sheppard Mullin’s Trade Secrets Law Blog.
  • And while we’re on the topic of an opinion covering multiple interesting trade secret issues, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has issued a highly factual decision that addresses, among other things, the intersection of a researcher’s general skill and knowledge and his former employer’s confidential research information. In Masimo Corp. v. True Wearables, Inc., Judge James Selna issued an injunction restraining the former researcher and his current company from using trade secrets arising from pulse oximetry, which involves measuring oxygen in the blood.  The opinion addresses a range of tricky issues such as the use of trade secrets from memory, the concept of independent development and a good discussion of the affirmative defense of what is readily ascertainable under California law, but I found Judge Selna’s application of the “person of ordinary skill in the art” test to differentiate the former employee’s general skill and knowledge to be particularly important.  Courts have grappled with tests to distinguish an employee’s general skill and knowledge from an employer’s trade secrets, and so far as I can tell, this is the first time that a court has used this objective test from the patent world to separate the two categories of information.
  • IBM scored a major victory in a dispute brought by a Chinese venture capital partner against one of IBM’s Chinese affiliates, securing the dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim for relief and lack of personal jurisdiction grounds.  In a post for The IP Watchdog, Alex Pronk summarizes the ruling in Beijing Neu Cloud Oriental System Tech. Co., Ltd. v. International Business Machines Corporation, in which U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that (a) the plaintiff had failed to adequately identify the trade secrets at issue (confidential customer information), and (b) that the information was “available through public and independent sources”, reasoning “it is implausible that [IBM] would not be able to identify potential users of IBM technology without [Beijing Neu Cloud] having identified some of them.”
  • Would you like insurance coverage for your trade secrets case?  Then you should review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s opinion in Lionbridge Tech., LLC v. Valley Forge Ins. Co., which held that a trade secret claim that allegedly caused reputational damage to the plaintiff triggered defamation coverage for what were otherwise traditional trade secret claims.  Hannah Cohen details the opinion for the Trade Secrets section of McDermott Will & Emery’s IP Update Blog.
  • Here’s a head-scratcher out of California dismissing a statute of limitations defense.  In Pinkerton Tobacco v. Kretek Int’l, the defendant Kretek produced evidence that plaintiff knew in 2016 that Kretek was importing and selling a competing device that included the trade secrets, knew that another party (Ericsson) was involved in the manufacture of that device, and suspected that Ericsson was using the trade secrets to manufacture the device that he had sold to the plaintiff. As a result, Kretek moved for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the three-year statute of limitations because the plaintiff knew that the device was manufactured using its trade secrets. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, however, denied the motion, reasoning that the defendant had only shown that the plaintiff had knowledge that the product was manufactured using misappropriated trade secrets, as opposed to demonstrating that the defendant had the requisite knowledge of the trade secrets themselves.  Mark Klapow and Ryan Fitzgerald have a post for Crowell’s Trade Secret Trends Blog on this curious decision.
  • Wrestling with what you need to plead to ensure that your DTSA claim satisfies the interstate commerce requirement?  Then check out U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Judge Bridget Brennan’s opinion in Health Care Facilities Partners, LLC v. Diamond, which lays out the particulars required to satisfy that pleading requirement.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (December 15, 2022): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Posts, Cases and Developments

When an employee leaves for a competitor, it’s not uncommon for the former employer to investigate whether the employee took information on the way out the door. But a recent case from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Patel v. Duke Hospitality LLC, highlights some limits on what the former employer can do.

As Ben

And away we go:

Noteworthy Defend Trade Secrets Act Cases, Federal Trade Secrets Opinions and Related Commentary:

  • If an employer presents specific evidence that former employees emailed, printed out or took copies of customer lists, is that sufficient evidence to establish that those former employees misappropriated those trade secrets for purposes of defeating summary judgment?  In Busey Bank v. Michael G. Turnery, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge Sara Ellis concluded that it was not enough since “mere possession of trade secrets does not suffice to plausibly allege disclosure or use of those trade secrets, even when considered in conjunction with solicitations of former clients.”  A link to the opinion can be found here, and Law360′s article on the case can be found here.  The opinion is interesting to me in two respects:  (1) it is consistent with an emerging trend requiring direct, rather than circumstantial, proof of misappropriation (see my earlier post on the Wisk Aero v. Archer Aviation case and on other federal cases finding that mere downloading isn’t enough for an injunction); and (2) reading between the lines, it seemed like Judge Ellis saw this case as an employee “raiding case” masquerading as a trade secrets case.
  • Although most trade secret disputes arise in the employer/employee relationship, a recent opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit serves as a reminder that the contours of trade secret law are often shaped by disputes in the public records context.  In a post for Crowell’s Government Contracts Legal Forum, John McCarthy, Anuj Vohra and Daniel Wolff describe the decision that better defined what degree of competitive harm needs to be presented to support a trade secret invocation under the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act.
  • Discovery disputes are common in trade secret litigation because of the nature of information at issue (i.e., highly sensitive trade secrets) and the potential intrusiveness of some of the types of discovery (imaging and forensic analysis of personal devices).  However, a defendant’s continued resistance and non-compliance with discovery requests and court orders led to the rarest of sanctions–a default on the merits.  In RedWolf Energy Trading, LLC v. BIA Capital Management, LLC, et al., the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts imposed this sanction against the individual defendant and his company.  Erik Weibust details the court’s 72-page decision for Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Employee Mobility Blog.  Erik’s post highlights the fact that the defendant tried to save costs on a discovery vendor (blaming him for its failure) and is now on the hook for more than $10 million in damages.
  • And the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts is not the only court that has issued terminating sanctions against a party for failing to abide by discovery obligations and court orders.  For a comprehensive list of spoliation cases involving requests for severe sanctions, check out Arent Fox’s Linda Jackson, Matthew Prewitt, Taniel Anderson, Nadia Patel and Pascal Naples’ article for The National Law Journal describing multiple cases over the past 3 years in which courts have imposed severe sanctions on recalcitrant parties.
  • Speaking of discovery disputes, there is an interesting decision coming out of the Wisk Aero v. Archer Aviation case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (for more on that case and its well-reasoned decision denying a preliminary injunction, see my post from last year).  U.S. District Court Judge Orrick affirmed the ruling of Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu that permitted the individual defendants accused of trade secret theft in that case to review the trade secrets at issue; frankly, given the need for a defendant to evaluate the trade secret claims against it, it never fails to amaze me that employers and trade secret owners resist these types of disclosures.  However, the most interesting feature of the Magistrate’s order is that each defendant was only allowed to view the trade secret for 15 minutes.  Jim Pooley briefly touches on this dispute in a post he wrote for The IP Watchdog as he describes the many situations where courts have to balance competing policies and interests in trade secret litigation.
  • Steve Brachman has a post for the IP Watchdog on the viability of an argument that the DTSA’s policy supporting federal protection for trade secrets trumps a forum selection clause directing litigation to Denmark.  In Amyndas Pharmaceuticals, S.A. v. New Zealand Pharma AS, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected that and other arguments and shipped the case out to a Danish court.  The First Circuit made short work of the argument that the terms “defendants’ venue” meant anything other than the corporate headquarters of that defendant, reasoning any other interpretation would render the phrase meaningless.  Dennis Crouch also has a post on the decision for the Patently-O blog.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (October 5, 2022): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Cases, Developments and Posts

Here are the noteworthy trade secret and restrictive covenant posts from September and some of October:

Legislative Developments
  • Massachusetts is once again contemplating multiple bills regarding non-competes as well as a possible adoption of what appears to be the DTSA advises Russell Beck in his Fair Competition Blog.  Russell and his team also have summaries of legislative activity in Maryland, Maine, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia, among others.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (October 27, 2017): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Posts from Around the Web

Two federal courts have issued important rulings scaling back the use of the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C. 1030, et seq., for alleged violations of online agreements.  These decisions are noteworthy in the trade secret area because employers and businesses have used the CFAA when they believe that a former employee or competitor has improperly accessed their electronic records.  In the first decision, EarthCam, Inc. v. OxBlue Corp., et al., 2017 WL 3188453 (11th Cir. Aug. 1, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected a claim that a competitor’s access of a customer account violated the CFAA (a link to the opinion can be found here).  And in the second, hiQ Laboratories, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corp., Case No. 3:17-cv-03301 (EMC) (N.D. California Aug. 14, 2017), Judge Edward Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found that a violation of LinkedIn’s online terms and conditions did not support a CFAA claim.  (A link the opinion can be found here).  Judge Chen’s opinion is particularly noteworthy because it appears to depart from some of the reasoning of a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that allowed Facebook to invoke the CFAA.  As explained below, these rulings may signal a growing judicial reluctance to allow the CFAA to be used to limit otherwise publicly-available information.

Continue Reading Two Important Rulings Scale Back the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act for Violations of Digital Service Contracts

A recent decision by U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois addresses a very timely and novel question:  can a website provider enforce the equivalent of a covenant not compete through an online clickwrap agreement?  In TopstepTrader, LLC v. OneUp Trader, LLC, Case No. 17 C 4412 (N.D. Illinois June 28, 2017), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rejected one website provider’s effort to do just that, reasoning that the provider was attempting to use its website’s terms and conditions to improperly restrict competition under Illinois non-compete law.  The opinion, which can be found here, may prove to be a significant one as courts wrestle with the enforceability of online terms of condition that may limit competition or the use of information publicly available through those websites.  (A shout out to Evan Brown’s Internet Cases for first reporting on this case).
Continue Reading Can A Website Provider Use A “Clickwrap” Agreement to Enforce A Non-Compete?

Sunday Wrap-Up (Aug. 25, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Sunday Wrap-Up (Aug. 25, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web

Thursday Wrap-Up (July 25, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Thursday Wrap-Up (July 25, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web

Thursday Wrap-Up (July 4, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Thursday Wrap-Up (July 4, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web

Friday Wrap-Up (June 28, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant-Not-to-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Friday Wrap-Up (June 28, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web