Here are last month’s noteworthy cases, article and posts, as well as a few other cases that I didn’t have room for in last month’s wrap up post:

Noteworthy Defend Trade Secret Act and Other Federal Cases, Posts and Articles:

  • Can an employee be prohibited from communicating with his/her new employer’s lawyers? If there is a risk that they might share details of other trade secret disputes, they can, at least according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In Stryker Emp. Co., LLC v. Abbas, Case No. 22-1563 (6th Cir. Feb. 16, 2023) (Clay, Bush, JJ.; Sutton, C.J.), the Sixth Circuit affirmed an injunction enforcing, among other things, a provision limiting the employee, Abbas, from communicating with his employer’s (Alphatec) counsel. Stryker was involved in three other cases against Alphatec involving other former Stryker employees, and the Sixth Circuit found that Abbas “was privy to confidential information that if disclosed to Alphatec or Alphatec’s counsel, would detrimentally affect Stryker” in those other lawsuits. McDermott Will & Emery’s Tessa Kroll has a summary of the decision. I have to confess this decision seems extreme, given that a standard confidentiality order would achieve the narrow purpose sought–protection of confidential information involving a pending litigation–and the breadth of this ruling may unfairly impinge on the ability of counsel to engage in joint defense communications.
  • The winner of this month’s Gladys Kravitz Award is EmergencyMD, LLC, an employer that couldn’t resist peering into the Gmail account of its former employee. That snooping led to a viable claim under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In Carson v. EmergencyMD, LLCC, et al. the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment dismissal of the former employee’s SCA claim, finding genuine issues of fact existed over whether the defendants’ accessing of the emails was unintentional and whether EmergencyMD’s policies authorized the defendants’ obtaining and disclosing their former employee’s emails.
  • How much risk does a cannabis-loving employee truly pose to his employer’s trade secrets? Not very much, according to Judge Kenneth Bell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Microban Int’l Ltd. v. William Bartley Kennedy. The employee had been terminated for ingesting a marijuana gummy bear before an important meeting, and Judge Bell found the former employee’s “hollow threats” to share his employer’s confidential information uttered during severance negotiations were insufficient for an injunction.
  • Illinois proudly claims the title of the Land of Lincoln. But it has another honor that it doesn’t boast about nearly as much. It is the birthplace of the infamous inevitable disclosure doctrine (see PepsiCo, Inc. v. Redmond), a doctrine much maligned by scholars and lawyers representing employees in trade secret cases. Fortunately, the doctrine may be close to expiring as a recent case, Petrochoice, LLC v. Amherdt, suggests. Judge Jorge Alonso of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rejected the former employer’s inevitable disclosure argument, ruling that the information the former employer was attempting to limit (the employee Amherdt’s “level” of performance of his “sales skills”) “is precisely the sort of sales acumen that employees are permitted to take with them.”
  • When can a new employer be vicariously liable for its newly-hired employee’s alleged trade secret misappropriation? In Alert Enterprises, Inc. v. Rana, Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed claims by a former employer to include a competitor, SoloInsight, who hired a former employee who had downloaded over 2,600 of Alert Enterprises’ files and deleted other information to cover up those and other transfers. SoloInsight represented that none of those files had been uploaded to its system, which the plaintiff had to acknowledge in its complaint. On this record, Judge Scott Corley found there were no plausible claims of use or disclosure by SoloInsight and that it could not be vicariously liable for conduct that occurred before it hired that employee.
  • Many of the decisions ordering early trade secret identification fail to provide guidance on how a plaintiff should identify those trade secrets with particularity. The reason for this is obvious: the descriptions themselves include allegedly proprietary information and therefore the key portions of the court’s analysis are frequently under seal. This reality means there aren’t many decisions to assist trade secret owners on what qualifies as a defensible identification. However, in Carlyle Interconnect Tech. Inc. v. Foresight Finishing LLC, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona provides that rare roadmap. In that case, Judge Steven Logan oversaw a discovery dispute over the identification of the plaintiff’s plating process trade secrets, providing a fine explanation of the factual context at issue, and ultimately holding that the plaintiff must “identify[] the steps in the process and explain[] how those steps make their method or process unique.”
  • Consistent with the trend that I noted last month, federal courts continue to deny motions to dismiss trade secret claims but remain willing to narrow cases by getting rid of other tort claims. Check out the latest case, PRO MINERAL, LLC v. Marietta, Dist., where the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas kept the trade secret and breach of contract claims but applied Texas’ preemption doctrine to dismiss claims for breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy.
  • It must be frustrating for trade secret owners seeking an injunction before courts bound by decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Why you ask? The fact that they have to contend with the ill-conceived Faiveley Transport Malmo AB v. Wabtec Corporation, 559 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2009) decision. For those unfamiliar with that opinion, the Second Circuit inexplicably ruled that irreparable injury did not exist in situations where a competitor was simply using trade secrets; the Second Circuit reasoned that the risk of further disclosure was not present because the misappropriating defendant and trade secret owner were both aligned on the issue of disclosure, and neither would therefore benefit from further disclosure. Of course, this rationale runs counter to a central tenet of ownership–namely, the owner’s right to exclude a competitor from using its IP. In Amimon, Inc. v. Shenzen Hollyland Tech Co. Ltd., et al., Judge Edgardo Ramos relied on Faiveley‘s holding and denied Amimon’s request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that it could recover money damages for the alleged misappropriation which was confined to the use of the trade secrets by defendants. It should be noted that Amimon did itself no favors, as its irreparable injury arguments were based on damage to its reputation and the threat that defendants might further share the trade secrets, neither of which were supported by sufficient facts.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (April 4, 2023): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Cases, Posts and Developments

While there was minimal legislative actively last month, there were a number of interesting decisions and articles on the trade secret and restrictive covenant front:

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

  • Perhaps the biggest news last month was the $104.65 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. delivered by a Michigan federal jury for the breach of its contract with Versata Software and the misappropriation of Versata’s trade secrets.   The dispute arose over a 2004 agreement between Versata and Ford for software that Versata developed to manage how components in Ford vehicles would be configured during assembly.  Versata had been a vendor of Ford’s since the 1990’s until 2015 when Ford terminated the relationship.  The jury found that after off-ramping Versata, Ford improperly reverse engineered the software for its own use.  The jury awarded $22.39 million to Versata for three of the software trade secrets and $82.26 million for Ford’s breach of contract.  Ford plans to appeal.  Like the Goodyear case that I recently wrote about, this dispute highlights the fact that trade secret cases don’t just involve departing employees.
  • Speaking of cases involving employees, Patently O‘s Dennis Crouch did an informal survey of 10 recently filed federal trade secret cases.  Dennis noted that all 10 of the cases involved employer/employee disputes and many arose in the sales representative context over customer and sales information.  One of the cases, Cartiga, LLC v. Robles, provides a textbook example of how NOT to respond to a cease-and-desist letter from your former employer’s lawyer (the emojis below were attached as an exhibit to the complaint):
  • Having prevailed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Boeing successfully secured the dismissal of trade secrets claims asserted against it by arguing that a limitation of liability provision in its nondisclosure agreement (NDA) also applied to the same trade secret claims.  Reasoning that because the NDA’s choice of law provision applied to those trade secret claims, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama held that the NDA’s limitation of liability provision applied to those claims as well.  That opinion, Alabama Aircraft Indus., Inc. v. The Boeing Company, can be found here.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued yet another opinion taking a narrow approach to a trade secrets claim, affirming the trial court’s decision to deny an injunction against a group of employees.  In Matthews Int’l Corp. v. Lombardi, the Third Circuit found that the trial court properly exercised its discretion to limit injunctive relief to a single bad actor and not impose a broader injunction against the remaining individual defendants preventing them from otherwise lawfully competing.  The other individuals had already agreed, as memorialized by a subsequent order, to (1) return all of the plaintiff’s information, (2) remove the information from their devices, and (3) refrain from servicing customers who had the plaintiff’s cremation equipment.  The Third Circuit reasoned that no injunction was necessary for multiple reasons, including the absence or expiration of any restrictive covenants, the absence of any breach and the plaintiff’s inability to show irreparable injury.  Isaiah Weedn has a good summary of the case in Sheppard Mullin’s Trade Secrets Law Blog.
  • Federal courts continue to grapple with the importance of circumstantial evidence to demonstrate misappropriation at the summary judgment stage.  Last month, I wrote about a decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois holding mere possession of a trade secret was insufficient to show use.  However, in Clean Energy v. Trillium Transportation Fuels, Inc., Magistrate Peter Bray of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that “proof of ‘use’ often depends upon circumstantial evidence” and found that the circumstantial evidence presented to him was sufficient to deny the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.  The cases probably can be reconciled by the fact that there was more circumstantial evidence to offer in the Clean Energy case, but the decisions do highlight a schism on the significance of direct vs. circumstantial evidence.
  • Federal courts are also split on the availability of the inevitable disclosure doctrine under the DTSA, according to Mintz’s Oliver Ennis, Nicholas Armington and Adam Samansky in an article for The National Law Journal.
  • One of the signature developments of the DTSA has been the mind-numbing number of opinions addressing motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).  Fisher & Phillips’ David Walton provides a five-step action plan for making sure your bases are covered if you are filing a claim under the DTSA.  Maxwell Goss also has an earlier post this year on the same topic that was published by The Michigan Law Journal.
  • Is there a circuit split on the enforceability of forum selection clauses?  Given the many differences between state laws on restrictive covenants, a forum selection clause can be outcome determinative.  Sarah Tisher of Beck Reed Riden has a post about that split and the prospects that the U.S. Supreme Court may address it.
  • The avoided cost theory of damages continues to gain traction as an element of damages in trade secret cases, advises Andrea Feathers for Sheppard Mullins Trade Secrets Law Blog.  In essence, the doctrine recognizes the cost savings that a misappropriator realizes when it is able to shortcut the research or development of a product or service by using that trade secret.  Heather writes about a recent decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in Medimpact Healthcare Sys. v. IQVIA Inc., No. 19cv1865-GPC(DEB), 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186470, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2022), that recognized the availability of the doctrine but deferred ruling on how best to calculate those damages in further briefing.  Heather’s post provides a solid summary of the development of this theory of damages and the key decisions that have led to its increasing recognition and use by trade secret owners.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (November 11, 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

“It’s all in your head but I own it anyway.” It’s a tough argument to make, let alone swallow, and, fortunately, it has been recently rejected by two federal courts in cases that follow an increasingly common fact pattern:  an employee abides by their restrictive covenant but goes on to compete against their former employer after the covenant expires.  Fearing the competition, the employer pursues a trade secrets claim, arguing that the employee will inevitably disclose its trade secrets or that the employee has memorized and is therefore misappropriating the trade secrets.  Or it involves a similarly-attenuated fact pattern:  the employer has no restrictive covenant at all and there is no evidence of tangible misappropriation (i.e., no evidence of thumbdrives or downloading, no Dropbox or GoogleDoc dumps, nor emailed documents to personal email accounts), but it relies on a trade secret claim that an employee must still be using those trade secrets because they are successfully competing.

The two decisions, CAE Integrated, Inc. v. Moov Technologies, Inc., issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and First Interstate BancSystem, Inc. v. Hubert, issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, both reach the same conclusion:  an employer has a very high burden to overcome when making a trade secret claim on these facts in the absence of compelling evidence of misappropriation.  As I explain below, taken together, these are significant decisions that demonstrate that employers should think carefully before pursuing employees on claims that the former employees were or would be relying on their memories to improperly use trade secrets rooted in customer identity or customer preferences.
Continue Reading Working through the Thicket of Memory, Misappropriation and the Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine: Two Recent Cases Demonstrate Judicial Skepticism

A recent opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has stirred up a hornets’ nest of commentary because it appears to recognize the viability of the inevitable disclosure doctrine under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).  Those familiar with the DTSA will recall that the inevitable disclosure doctrine was supposed to be prohibited under the DTSA because of California Senator Diane Feinstein’s concern that the doctrine might be enforced against California residents.  Now, in what appears to be the first federal appellate court opinion construing the DTSA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit may have further muddied the waters about the inevitable disclosure doctrine in Fres-co Systems USA, Inc. v. Hawkins, Case No. 16-3591, ___ Fed. Appx. __ (3rd Cir. 2017), 2017 WL 2376568 (June 1, 2017) (a link to the opinion can found here).
Continue Reading Fres-co Systems v. Hawkins: Did The Third Circuit Just Create More Confusion Around The DTSA’s Ban On The Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine?

AT_YOUR_OWN_RISKWhen moving to enforce a non-compete, the last thing a litigator wants to do is to stumble out of the gates and struggle over a profound legal issue that could delay consideration of that normally urgent request.   A new and little-talked-about section of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), however, has the potential to trip up employers seeking to enforce non-competes if they are not prepared to address this new entanglement.

There has been a significant amount of commentary about the DTSA and its new amendments since President Obama signed the DTSA into law on May 11, 2016. The “whistle-blower” immunity and ex parte seizure order, for example, have generated the most discussion to this point.  However, the section of the DTSA that may have the greatest future impact on litigation under the DTSA is 18 U.S.C. §1839(3)(A)(i)(1)(I), which prohibits injunctions that “prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship.”

That new provision, which I will refer to as the “No-Ban-on-Employment” provision, was intended to curb, if not eliminate, the use of the inevitable disclosure doctrine under the DTSA.  However, it may have a significant unintended consequence–namely, it may complicate employers’ efforts to enforce non-competes through temporary restraining orders (TRO), the key legal mechanism for non-compete disputes.  For the reasons below, employers may want to reconsider invoking the DTSA when they want to enforce their non-competes because of the potential complications of this section’s language and instead opt to file them in state court, at least in the short-term.  As the DTSA is likely to overtake the Uniform Trade Secret Act (UTSA) as the dominant statutory regime for trade secret law, this DTSA provision may well set another blow in motion to the viability of the non-compete as an effective tool to protect trade secrets.

Continue Reading Does the Defend Trade Secrets Act Contain a Potential Roadblock for Non-Competes? Why the DTSA’s Limitations on the Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine May Complicate Enforcing Non-Competes

Mitigating Your Trade Secret Risk When Hiring an Employee From a Competitor: The Trade Secret Litigator’s Five Golden Rules for On-Boarding A New Employee (Part II)
Continue Reading Mitigating Your Trade Secret Risk When Hiring an Employee From a Competitor: The Trade Secret Litigator’s Five Golden Rules for On-Boarding A New Employee (Part II)

The AIPLA Trade Secret Summit: High Points regarding Injunctions, Trade Secret Identification, High Tech Cases and Criminal Referrals
Continue Reading The AIPLA Trade Secrets Summit: High Points regarding Injunctions, Trade Secret Identification, High Tech Cases and Criminal Referrals

Thursday Wrap-Up (May 9, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Thursday Wrap-Up (May 9, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web

Thursday Wrap-Up (May 2, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Thursday Wrap-Up (May 2, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web