Federal Trade Commission

It was a busy August, so here are the highlights:

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

  • Can a trade secret owner plead a claim of inevitable disclosure under the DTSA?  In Idexx Laboratories, Inc. v. Graham Bilbrough, Magistrate Nivoson of the U.S. District Court of Maine dismissed that claim, reasoning the majority of courts have rejected that theory based on the language and history of the DTSA.  Readers of this blog will remember that language was added to the DTSA near the end of legislative negotiations to placate concerns of California Senator Dianne Feinstein about the use of this doctrine, which is prohibited in California.  However, it is worth noting that multiple courts, including federal courts in Illinois and Pennsylvania, have allowed the doctrine to be pleaded under a pendent state law claim if that state recognizes the inevitable disclosure doctrine.  For a good primer on past decisions regarding the inevitable disclosure doctrine and the DTSA, check out this post from Orrick’s Trade Secrets Watch.
  • In a high profile case brought by NBA star Zion Williamson against his former agent, Williamson v. Prime Sports Marketing LLC et al., the U.S. District Court of North Carolina has ruled in his favor, holding that the concept of marketing Zion as the next Lebron James did not qualify as a trade secret.  Astor Heaven and Emily Tucker summarize the decision in Crowell’s Trade Secrets Trends Blog.
  • Avoided costs can qualify as damages for a trade secret claim says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Eileen McDermott has a summary of the Third Circuit’s ruling in a post for the IP Watchdog.
  • Does a trade secret complaint’s allegations of misappropriation present facial plausibility or are they merely consistent with liability? Yes, that is lawyerspeak at its finest, but it’s an important question because it may determine whether your trade secret complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. As Federal Rule 12(b)(6) has become a more prominent tool for defendants in trade secret cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit provides a roadmap for plaintiffs and defendants alike for framing their arguments in connection pleading/attacking a trade secret or restrictive covenant claim.  In LS3 Inc. v. Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs, LLC, the Tenth Circuit applied this test to a dispute over the poaching of employees, holding that the breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriate of trade secret claims survived Rule 12(b)(6)’s standards but that the breach of contract claims were insufficient as a matter of law.
  • In the latest installment of lawyers behaving badly, Littler and Polsinelli continue to square off about whether a client development toolkit assembled at Littler qualifies as a trade secret and whether it was misappropriated when a lawyer and staff left to start a competing practice at Polsinelli.  The parties are sparring over the scope of discovery and Littler has now withdrawn its request for a TRO.  A summary of the arguments and related developments as reported by Law360 can be found here.
  • The Motorola v. Hytera case, the high-profile case I have written about pending in Chicago, has some interesting developments.  First, readers of this blog will know that Motorola prevailed in the case and is supposed to be receiving a sizable court-ordered royalty payment from Hytera; however, Hytera claims it can’t pay, so Motorola has filed a motion for contempt and is asking the district court to enter the injunction it previously denied (see this article summarizing the motion practice in Radio Research Mission Critical Communications).  Second, Hytera has been granted leave to assert antitrust counterclaims against Motorola.  These claims are rare in the trade secret context, so it will be interesting to see how they unfold.  Stay tuned.
  • I wrote about the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in Rexxa, Inc. v. Chester last month and there are two posts with different takes on the opinion worth reading.  Sheppard Mullins’ Mikela Sutrina and Jenna Crawford emphasize that the 11-year wait by the plaintiff Rexxa undermined its trade secret claim because certain aspects of the alleged trade secret had become widely known by the time of the lawsuit.  And Holland & Knight has a thorough client alert analyzing both the district court’s initial opinion and the Seventh Circuit affirming opinion; that post focuses on Rexxa’s failure to adequately identify the trade secrets as the key to the opinion dismissing the case.
  • There are multiple decisions addressing attorneys’ fees sought by successful litigants this past month.  U.S. District Court Judge Gray Miller ordered IBM to pay $21 million in attorneys’ fees after the $1.6 billion dollar verdict against it.  And Law360 is reporting on a $3.9  million award to Munck Wilson for its fees in a trade secrets case pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas; the decision enforced a contractual indemnity as the basis for those fees.  Finally, Marcus Mintz and Robyn Marsh note that an unsuccessful plaintiff dodged a bad faith finding in a post for Seyfarth’s Trading Secrets Blog.  In Transperfect Global, Inc. v. Lionbridge Technologies, Inc., U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York, denied that request, although she chastised the plaintiff for pursuing that claim after it should known they were without merit, characterizing its litigation conduct as “unsavory business.”


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (September 7, 2022): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Cases, Developments and Posts

There is a significant amount of activity going on in the trade secret and restrictive covenant space, so I am going to do my best to resume my monthly wrap up posts, after a long (although some might say not long enough) hiatus.  Without further ado, here are the noteworthy developments of the past month:

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

  • The Motorola v. Hytera litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has generated a number of noteworthy developments, including a seminal opinion affirming the DTSA’s extraterritorial reach, as well as a substantial jury verdict ($597 million).  Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Norgle denied a request to reconsider his denial of Motorola’s request for a permanent injunction (that earlier opinion can be found here December 17, 2020).  The December 17, 2020 opinion provides an excellent analysis of the roadmap courts will likely follow when contemplating a permanent injunction in connection with a significant monetary award (spoiler alert:  a royalty looks like the best option given the reality that the trade secrets have now been monetized).  In his most recent July 5, 2022 ruling, Judge Norgle notes that Hytera’s inability to satisfy the judgment might establish the irreparable injury element necessary for that injunction, but Hytera’s pending appeal forecloses his ability to exercise jurisdiction on that order.  Stay tuned for the Seventh Circuit’s eventual ruling.
  • A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit should serve as a reminder to trade secret owners to make sure their claim of misappropriation is sufficiently tied to the proximate cause required for damages.  Kyle Jahner of Bloomberg Law has a summary of that decision, GeoMetWatch Corp. v. Hall, et. al, Case No. 19-4130, in which the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of those claims on the grounds their damages were speculative.
  • Are federal courts imposing higher pleading standards on trade secret owners to identify their trade secrets with particularity?  Foley & Hoag’s Jeff Lewis, Paul Downs and Robert Haney Jr. persuasively argue that a consensus for that higher standard is emerging in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and elsewhere.
  • Is manipulating documents produced in discovery enough to get you sanctioned?  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit says “kind of.”  In REXA Inc. v. Chester, the Seventh Circuit reversed an order imposing sanctions on the plaintiff for producing documents in a manner that obscured, among other things, whether the defendant had actually signed an employment agreement.  The Seventh Circuit reasoned that while this discovery misconduct was troubling, the $2.3 million in attorneys’ fees for that misconduct were not sufficiently broken down and remanded for further consideration.
  • If you’re a trade secret owner trying to fend off a motion for summary judgment and get your case to a jury, take a look at U.S. Magistrate Christina Bryan’s Memorandum and Recommendation in Vest Safety v. Arbor Environmental, LLC.  The opinion, which comes out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas’ Houston Division, shows how a well-organized and tight trade secret claim — addressing among other things, the §757 of Restatement of Tort’s comment b  six factor test — can survive such a motion.
  • What comes first, a motion to challenge jurisdiction or a preliminary injunction?  In Aquate II v. Jesse Myers, the U.S. District Court of Alabama elected to entertain a motion challenging subject matter jurisdiction rather than the pending motion for preliminary injunction.  Although U.S. District Court of for the Northern District of Alabama Judge Abdul Kallon does not provide a lot of analysis for that choice, the decision provides support that challenges to subject matter jurisdiction can take priority.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (August 2, 2022): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Cases, Developments and Posts

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about President Biden’s executive order directing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action to curtail the abuse of non-competes and other employment agreements that could limit employee mobility.  In response to that executive order, nearly sixty lawyers (including yours truly) joined in a letter asking the FTC

As he promised during the 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order on Friday that directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to curtail the use of unfair non-competes or other agreements that may limit employee mobility.  This Executive Order is the culmination of efforts by federal legislators to ban or limit non-competes.  A number of bills have been brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate, mostly by Democratic Senators, and none of been able to marshal sufficient bipartisan support to advance.   As those legislative efforts fizzled, several of those senators then lobbied the FTC to ban non-competes, which in turn held hearings over whether to take regulatory action early last year.

As explained in greater detail below, the Biden Executive Order is short on detail and simply encourages the FTC to take unspecified action against unfair non-competes and other agreements limiting employee mobility.  On its face, the Executive Order focuses on “unfair” agreements which have generally been understood to mean non-competes imposed on lower-wage workers.  Should, however, the FTC take a more aggressive approach to ban all non-competes, that could harm one of the key drivers of employment in the U.S. — small and medium-sized businesses that more heavily rely on non-competes to protect their companies.
Continue Reading The Biden Executive Order Seeking to Curtail Non-Competes: Why It May Be Bad for Small Companies