“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?

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

Here are the noteworthy trade secret, restrictive covenant and cybersecurity posts from the month of August (warning, there are a lot):

Defend Trade Secrets Act

  • Munger Tolles’ Miriam Kim, Carolyn Hoecker Luedtke and Laura Smolowe have put together another fine summary of the trends they are tracking under the Defend Trade Secrets Act.  There are several interesting findings in the summary.  For example, state courts and state law remain the preferred forum and substantive law for trade secrets claimants, at least at this time.  According to the summary, while 378 DTSA cases have been filed in federal and state courts, more than 515 complaints with trade secret claims have been filed with no DTSA claims in federal and state courts throughout the U.S.  I have to admit that I was surprised by this finding, as I expected that litigants would be eager to secure a federal forum using the DTSA.  I suspect that most of those state law cases involve restrictive covenants and that the plaintiffs are more comfortable with a local judge enforcing a non-compete or want to avoid entanglements arising from the DTSA’s limitations on injunctions.  Or it might be that they simply want to go with the law they know best, which would be the more developed state trade secret law regime.  In any event, a very interesting finding.
  • One of the more recent (and unexpected) developments under the DTSA has been the number of motions to dismiss challenging DTSA claims.  Olga May has a post for Fish & Richardson’s Litigation Blog detailing those decisions on those motions, which range from challenges to the specificity of the trade secrets pleaded to whether the complaint comports with the standards under Twombly and Iqbal.
  • For an update on the modest number of ex parte seizure order filings under the DTSA, see Michael Renuad of Mintz Levn’s article in the National Law Journal.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (Sept. 8, 2017): Noteworthy Trade Secrets, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity Posts from Around the Web

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?