Federal Trade Commission

As many of you know from my post last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just proposed a ban on noncompetes with virtually no exceptions. And, the FTC has also placed nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in its crosshairs.

No one knows this area better than Russell, and I mean no one, so please join 

December was unusually busy and 2023 started with a bang courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed rule banning noncompetes.  Here are the noteworthy cases and posts from last month, with several notable posts regarding the FTC’s big announcement on Thursday, for good measure:

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

  • Courts continue to scrutinize claims of irreparable injury in trade secret cases, and no court runs a tighter ship than the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  In Tomgal LLC v. Castano, District Court Judge John Koeltl of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied an injunction request, reasoning that irreparable injury did not exist because any injury arising from the misappropriated trade secrets could be easily calculated.  Judge Koeltl found “every unit of inventory that [defendant] Fashion Code sells to a Robin Ruth distributor is a sale that Robin Ruth did not make,” i.e., profits from the sale of the products containing the misappropriated trade secrets could be easily monetized. Judge Koeltl also rapped the plaintiff’s knuckles on laches grounds, finding that a 7-month delay was substantial and unreasonable.
  • If you don’t identify your trade secrets with particularity, you are not going to get an injunction.  That is the simple message that many federal courts are sending to trade secret owners, and a recent decision by District Court Judge Nugent of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio is the latest. To date, most of the discussion regarding trade secret identification has been at the discovery stage but now courts are reinforcing that message by denying early requests for an injunction. In Collar Jobs, LLC v. Slocum, Judge Nugent denied the request for an injunction against a former joint venture partner, expressing concern that “it is not entirely clear what Collar Jobs’ ‘trade secret’ is.”   He also questioned the novelty of the alleged “platform” trade secret before him, which appeared to be a combination trade secret of customer and prospect data.
  • So Judge Nugent’s opinion begs the following question: should the DTSA be amended to include a requirement that trade secret identification is provided early in a case?  In an article for Law360, Willenken LLP’s Amelia Sargent details recent rulings by the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit and Ninth Circuit recognizing the need for identification and advocates for that amendment.  It’s a good read and Amelia’s points are reasonable and sound.
  • A recent decision out of Massachusetts cuts against the trend of decisions broadly interpreting the extraterritorial reach of the DTSA.  In Sysco Machinery Corp. v. Cymtek Solutions, Inc., District Court Judge Leo Sorokin of the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts ruled the sale of products in the U.S. that were made using the alleged trade secrets, without more, did not qualify as “an act in furtherance” of misappropriation under the DTSA.  According to Judge Sorokin, the defendant Cymtek used the misappropriated trade secrets improperly to make competing machines in Taiwan, but all of that conduct occurred in Taiwan or outside the United States; as a result, on this record, he found that there was neither “misappropriation” in the United States nor an “act in furtherance of the offense . . . committed in the United States” as required under §1837(2) of the DTSA.  Contrast this ruling to the decisions described in my September 2021 post.  Tough to reconcile in my judgment.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (January 9, 2023): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Posts, Cases and Developments

Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission announced it has issued a proposed rule banning noncompetes. This development should come as no surprise since President Biden issued an executive order in July 2021 authorizing the FTC and other agencies to investigate the unfair use of noncompetes and other restrictive covenants and curtail their use. I expect that most of the commentary will focus on noncompetes and the ability of the FTC to effectively legislate over a body of law reserved for the states for over a hundred years. However, what should be of particular concern to the trade secret community is that the proposed FTC rule also potentially targets nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that are “written so broadly” as to amount to “de facto noncompetes.” In other words, employers in California, Oklahoma and North Dakota–states that forbid noncompetes–may find that their employee NDAs could qualify as de facto noncompetes under the FTC’s new rule. As explained below, this post briefly describes how we got here, what the proposed rule addresses, and suggests some actions employers can take to protect themselves in the meantime.

Continue Reading It’s Official: The Federal Trade Commission Seeks to Ban Noncompetes and Overly “Broad” NDAs

2022 was a momentous year in trade secret and restrictive covenant law. Join BenRussell and me as we take a look back on some of the more significant developments in trade secret and restrictive covenant law from the past year and what we are expecting in the coming year. We discuss recent criminal

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

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

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