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

A recent trade secrets decision out of New Jersey against The Weather Channel illustrates some interesting trade secret issues that arise in licensing agreements — namely, to what extent can a licensee extract itself from a licensing agreement when it concludes that it can gather the subject matter of the license from other publicly available places (or come up with the information more cheaply).  

In Events Media Network, Inc. v. The Weather Channel, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97514 (July 12, 2013), U.S. District Court Judge Robert P. Kugler denied a motion to dismiss filed by The Weather Channel, finding that the plaintiff Events Media Network, Inc. (EMNI) had presented sufficient allegations of trade secret theft to move the case forward.  EMNI contends that The Weather Channel took proprietary information that was supplied under their license agreement and improperly used it after the license expired.

The case involves one of the thorniest issues that arise in trade secret litigation — whether a compilation of publicly available information can qualify as a trade secret. In its Amended Complaint (attached as a PDF below), EMNI described its business as collecting, reviewing and distributing information for various local and national events and attractions.  While it conceded that none of the individual bits of data gathered together was confidential, EMNI argued that once that information was gathered together from the various sources using a custom built database, it qualified as a trade secret.

Applying Georgia’s Uniform Trade Secret Act, Judge Kugler agreed, at least at this early stage of the litigation, that EMNI had identified sufficient evidence that the information it supplied to The Weather Channel, organized in the fashion that it was, constituted a trade secret.  In this respect, his decision rests on solid ground and is consistent with the pleading standards that benefit a trade secrets plaintiff at this early juncture of the case. Todd Sullivan notes that The Weather Channel does not appear to contest that it used the information and predicts the case will be mediated or settled soon.

I Agreed to What?!!!  The case raises another interesting trade secret issue that has been in the news lately — whether the terms of a written contract can trump trade secret law.  According to the Amended Complaint, EMNI and The Weather Channel contractually agreed that the information supplied by EMNI under the license agreement was proprietary.  As a result, EMNI argued that provision should estop The Weather Channel from claiming otherwise.

A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Convolve and MIT v. Compaq and Seagate, held that the contract between the parties may be controlling on the question of whether information qualifies as a trade secret and that the parties can decide between themselves what needs to be done to ensure trade secret status.  In that case, the Federal Circuit found that the plaintiff’s failure to designate information as “confidential” — as was required under a non-disclosure agreement — doomed the plaintiff’s trade secret claim (for more on the case see Dennis Crouch’s post in Patently O Blog as well as Jason Stiehl’s post for Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog).

Here, EMNI used the language of the contract to its advantage and argued that The Weather Channel had conceded the proprietary nature of the information under the license.  The lesson?  In written agreements negotiated between sophisticated commercial parties, courts will frequently defer to the language of the agreement.

Quick Takeaway for Licensees: Do your due diligence and if you have skepticism over the value of what you are going to be licensing, it may be best to say “no thanks” to the deal.

Quick Takeaway for Licensors: The language of your agreement may prove critical so make sure that your licensee concedes that the information that you are supplying is protected and proprietary. More often than not, the court will apply the language agreed to by the parties.

EMNI Amended Complaint.pdf (1.56 mb)

01042013Here are the noteworthy trade secret, non-compete and cybersecurity stories from the past week, as well as one or two that I missed over the past couple of weeks:

Trade Secret and Non-Compete Cases. Posts and Articles:

  • The reaction from the trade secret community to the recently-released Obama IP Strategy Report has been one of disappointment. Expectations soared after the Obama administration announced its trade secrets initiative in February but the recent Report barely mentions trade secrets.  In a post for Orrick’s Trade Secrets Watch, Michael Spillner notes the strategy’s need for a civil cause of action.  Likewise, Misty Blair of Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog observes the Report’s failure to address trade secret protection more comprehensively as “a bit of a surprise.” 
  • “Illinois Appellate Court Requires Two Years of Employment for Postemployment Restrictive Covenants” reports Stacey Smiricky and Trina Taylor of Faegre Baker & Daniels for Lexology. Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog and Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog also have posts on the decision.  And Kenneth Vanko unloads on the decision in his Legal Developments in Non-Competition Agreements Blog.
  • In “Contractual Override of Trade Secret Law,” Dennis Crouch details a recent Federal Circuit decision in his Patently-O Blog affirming a New York federal court’s holding that a non-disclosure agreement’s requirement that confidential information be specifically designated trumped state trade secret law holding otherwise. As a result of the plaintiff’s failure to designate the information as “confidential” under the NDA, the court applied California law and held the information could not qualify as a trade secret.  Lesson?  Don’t include this language in your NDA, because in my experience, parties rarely have the time (or inclination) to designate each and every piece of information as “confidential.”
  • “Are An Employer’s Business Plans Discoverable In Non-Compete Litigation?” asks Jason Cornell of Fox Rothschild about a case in Ohio for Mondaq.
  • “New Jersey Federal Court Allows Non-Party to Employment/Non-Compete Agreement to Invoke Arbitration Clause,” advises David Walsh for Jackson Lewis’ Non-Compete & Trade Secret Report Blog.
  • “China Worries Improve Prospects Of Trade Secrets Bill” reports Ryan Davis for Law360.
  • “Chemical, oil companies fear potential EPA rule will expose trade secrets” advises Julian Hattem for The Hill.
  • “Face It: Judges Sometimes Hate Competition Cases” delivers Kenneth Vanko in a bit of hard of truth in his Legal Developments in Non-Competition Agreements Blog.
  • “Answers To Your Questions On Noncompete Agreements” provides Donna Ballman for her Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home Blog.
  • “Detecting Insider Threats to Trade Secrets” advises Catherine Dunn for Corporate Counsel.
  • If you don’t have a non-compete with a Chinese employee, don’t expect to restrain him or her advises the China Bridge IP Law Commentary Blog. In “Why China Supreme Court Agreed with Resigned Employees Establishing Competing Businesses?,” Luo Yanjie details a recent high court ruling explaining Chinese law on this issue.
  • For The Wall Street Journal’s take on the recent indictment of Chinese turbine manufacturer Sinovel, see “U.S. Looks to Blunt Corporate Espionage by Chinese Firms.”
  • “Best Practices For Enforcing Restrictive Covenants” advises Susan Trench of Arnstein & Lehr for Law360.

Cybersecurity Posts and Articles:

  • “Beware the Internet and the danger of cyberattacks,” warns Robert Samuelson for The Washington Post.
  • “NSA revelations throw wrench into lawmakers’ cybersecurity push” advises Brendan Sasso for The Hill.
  • “5 Ways to Boost Your Company’s Cybersecurity Strategy” recommends Catherine Dunn for Corporate Counsel.

Computer Fraud & Abuse Act Articles, Cases and Posts:

  • “You May Not Like Weev, But Your Online Freedom Depends on His Appeal” advises Wired on the appeal of Andrew Aurnheimer of his CFAA conviction.
  • “There Is Now a Split Within the District of Massachusetts over the Proper Interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” announces Brian Bialas for Foley & Hoag’s Massachusetts Noncompete Law Blog.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

01102013Here are the noteworthy trade secret, non-compete and cybersecurity stories from the past week, as well as one or two that I missed over the past couple of weeks:

Trade Secret and Non-Compete Posts and Articles:

  • In yet another non-compete case involving a physician, an Illinois appellate court has affirmed a trial court’s rejection of a covenant not to compete because the employer, a medical clinic, lacked a protectible interest in the patient base at issue. Jeff Glass reports on the case, Gastroenterology Consultants of the North Shore, S.C. v. Meiselman, M.D., et al., for SmithAmundsen’s Labor and Employment Law Update. According to Jeff, the following facts caused the court to side with the doctor: prior to forming the corporation, he practiced for a decade in the area; after forming the clinic, he continued treating these patients and personally billed them, as opposed to the clinic; the clinic did not help him with advertising or marketing; and finally, his compensation depended on his independent practice.
  • “U.S., China Aim To Curb IP Theft Standoff With Talks” reports Law360.
  • Looking to protect your trade secrets under Chinese law? Then consult “Chinese Translation: Protecting Trade Secrets in China Requires Knowing Complex Layers of Laws and Practices,” by Mimiao Hu, Shelley Zang and Xiang Wang for Orrick’s Trade Secrets Watch.
  • “Former engineer at Bergen County based company charged with stealing trade secrets,” reports NewJersey.com. Ketankumar “Ketan” Maniar planned to relocate to India with trade secrets stolen from his employer, Becton, Dickinson and Company, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.
  • For companies looking for a trade secrets lawyer, Kenneth Vanko has some fine practical advice, “The Employee’s First Client Meeting,” in his Legal Developments in Non-Competition Agreements Blog.
  • In the sad but true column, “(Practically) No Comment: White House Plea for Public Input on Trade Secret Theft Draws 13 Responses advise L. Kieran Kieckhefer and Warrington Parker for Orrick’s Trade Secrets Watch Blog. For 2 of the 13 responses, see Peter Torren’s opinion here and my submission here.
  • “New Oklahoma Law Clarifies Enforceability of Non-Solicitation of Employee Covenants” reports Daniel Joshua Salinas for Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog.
  • Jason Cornell of Fox Rothschild provides “A Comparison Of New York And Florida Law Governing Non-Compete Agreements” for Mondaq.
  • “Can My Employer Enforce A Noncompete When We Get Our Customers Through Bidding?” asks Donna Ballman in her Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home Blog.
  • A New York Federal “Court Finds Potential Liability For Sending Cease And Desist Letter reports Lauri Rasnick for Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog. For more on the risks of a claim of intentional interference from a cease and desist letter, see my post here.
  • “District of Connecticut Addresses Trade Secret Act Preemption advises Eric Ostroff in his Protecting Trade Secrets Blog.
  • “Why Non-Competes are bad for the economy,” advises Laura Ellerman for Frith & Ellerman’s Virginia Non-Compete Law Blog.
  • “Public Policy Trumps Non-Compete in North Carolina,” reports Eric Welsh for Parker Poe’s Trade Secrets & Unfair Competition Reporter Blog.
  • “Medical Device Manufacturer Bound By The Restrictive Covenants It Implemented,” reports Zachary Jackson for Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Non-Compete Blog.

Cybersecurity Posts and Articles:

  • In an interesting Op-Ed piece for The New York Times entitled “Elizabethan Cyberwar,” Jordan Chandler Hersch and Sam Adelsberg liken the current cyber conflict between China and the U.S. to the battle for the seas between Elizabethan England and Spain, arguing that China is sponsoring cyber-pirates to level the playing field with the U.S.
  • “Facebook Urges Cooperation To Tackle Mobile Security Risks,” reports Law360.
  • “Mobile Device Forensics – Are You in the Know?” asks James Whitehead in a guest post for Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog.
  • The IP Commission’s adoption of the “hack back” defense continues to stir controversy. GCN’s William Jackson asks “The hack-back vs. the rule of law: Who wins?” and Lisa Shuchman expresses concern in “IP Theft Report Offers Over-the-Top Solutions” for Corporate Counsel.
  • And The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Matthews chimes in as well, in “Support Grows to Let Cybertheft Victims ‘Hack Back.'”
  • Public Interest “Group Backs FTC Authority In Wyndham Data Breach Case,” reports Law360.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Posts and Cases:

  • “Recent Alleged Cyberattack By Ex-Employee Demonstrates Importance of Employer Diligence On Protecting Network Passwords,” advises Robert Milligan for Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog.