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

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

Episode 16 of Fairly Competing is out!

Temporary retraining orders (called, “TROs”) are a staple of trade secret and restrictive covenant litigation. IIn this episode, Ben, Russell  and I  discuss what you need to know when you are either seeking or defending against a temporary restraining order in a trade secret or noncompete case.

“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

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

Episode 12 of Fairly Competing is out and we discuss the high profile Wisk Aero litigation in California.

In this episode, Ben, Russell  and I explore the decision by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in Wisk Aero LLC v. Archer Aviation Inc.  Readers will remember that I wrote about this case last

You would think that evidence of the improper downloading of 5,000 files by a former employee who then invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, coupled with the remarkable similarity between inventions (see the picture alongside) would be enough to demonstrate circumstantial evidence of the misappropriation of trade secrets.  If you thought so, you would be wrong.  In one of the highest profile trade secret case since Waymo v. Uber, the plaintiff Wisk Aero thought it had its competitor dead to rights after expedited discovery revealed these and other facts.  However, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge William H. Orrick disagreed, rejecting the circumstantial evidence presented by Wisk Aero because it did not tie the alleged trade secrets with the circumstantial evidence of misappropriation.  As explained below, this case is the latest in a line of decisions declining to find that evidence of improperly downloaded information may be sufficiently compelling circumstantial evidence of misappropriation.  (A copy of the opinion can be found here).
Continue Reading Wisk Aero LLC v. Archer Aviation Inc.: A High Profile Trade Secrets Case Shows the Limits of Circumstantial Evidence

A lot has been written about the havoc that COVID-19 has wrought on courts and the changes it has caused in the way we litigate and try cases.  Unlike more conventional litigation, which ultimately seeks damages in trials that go before a jury, trade secret litigation frequently revolves around a trade secret owner’s request for an injunction, fast-moving legal proceedings that are generally decided by judges rather than juries.  So what has been the impact of COVID-19 on trade secret cases?  Perhaps the easiest way to analyze the pandemic’s impact is to break it down into three components:  (1) administrative, (2) procedural and (3) substantive.

Continue Reading How COVID-19 Is Changing the Way We Litigate Trade Secret Cases

Most trade secret lawsuits involve a request for an injunction, frequently in the form of a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO).  TROs are high octane proceedings that move very quickly and can turn on one key fact, argument or legal doctrine.  A recent ruling in a high profile case dominating the news, Parler v. Amazon Web Services, reinforces a number of important lessons that can determine a critical ruling on a very limited evidentiary record.  While the Parler case doesn’t involve claims typically found in a trade secret injunction, the lessons described below apply with equal force in all cases involving TROs and other emergency injunctions.

Continue Reading Parler v. Amazon Web Services: Three Lessons for Trade Secret Litigators

Given the ubiquity of thumb-drives and use of personal devices for work, it should come as no surprise that former employees frequently download and even retain their former employer’s sensitive information on their personal devices.  A Symantec study in 2013 found that ½ of the employees surveyed admitted to keeping confidential corporate data from their previous employer and 40% planned to use it in their new jobs.  However, is the fact that an employee downloaded confidential information, standing alone, enough to trigger a lawsuit and possibly an injunction?  A recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, AUA Private Equity Partners, LLC v. Soto, Case No. 1:17-cv-8035 (April 5, 2018), held downloading and refusing to return confidential information was enough to give rise to a claim under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) (for more on that case, see William Brian London’s post for Fisher & Phillips’ Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Blog).  As for the other question — whether a court will be willing to enter an injunction based on downloading — the answer is less clear.

Continue Reading Is Downloading Confidential Information Enough For An Injunction Under The Defend Trade Secrets Act?