Non-Solicitation Agreements

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

The economic carnage unleashed by the COVID-19 virus has disrupted virtually every industry in the United States.  At last count, more than 38 million workers had lost their jobs and made claims for unemployment benefits.  And while states have begun easing restrictions on the ability of many businesses to reopen, it is reasonable to expect there will be further turnover, leading to the departure of many employees to competitors.  Feeling more vulnerable because of the downturn, employers will inevitably look to enforce restrictive covenants, including non-competes and non-solicitation agreements, against those former employees.  How will courts tend to handle requests to enforce restrictive covenants, especially non-competes, in this difficult economy?  One guide may be looking at how they handled similar requests during the last economic downturn in 2008 in the state of Ohio.
Continue Reading Back to the Future: Do Restrictive Covenant Cases from the 2008 Recession Offer Clues to How Courts Will Rule in the Aftermath of COVID 19?

Most employee restrictive covenant disputes arise as a result of an employer’s concern about the potential loss of customer relationships and customer goodwill.  These disputes generally involve sales representatives or high level business executives that have relationships with key customers; these disputes also frequently involve defenses that the employees had pre-existing business relationships with the customers that should fall outside the non-compete or non-solicitation agreement at issue.  These disputes can be very fact-driven and the subject of very different recollections.  For these reasons, non-solicitation cases can be especially messy.  Unfortunately, a recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Hall v. Edgewood Partners Insurance Center, Inc., Case No. 18-3481/3482, highlights a doctrine — that an employee has rights to clients he/she acquired on his/her own time and dime — that may make these cases more complicated, expensive and problematic.
Continue Reading Whose Customer Is It Anyway? The Sixth Circuit Further Clouds New York’s Already Murky Law on Non-Solicitation Agreements

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

Here are the noteworthy trade secret, restrictive covenant and cybersecurity posts from the past month or so:

The Defend Trade Secrets Act

  • The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has found that certain deer registry information qualified as a combination trade secret under the DTSA and Oklahoma’s version of the UTSA, as explained by Michael Weil and Tierra Piens for Orrick’s Trade Secrets Watch blog.
  • The issue of whether the DTSA applies to misappropriation that may have taken place prior to the DTSA’s enactment has been one of the more frequent areas of litigation under the DTSA.  Jonathan Shapiro of Epstein Becker has a summary on these cases for Law360.


Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (July 31, 2017): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Non-Compete 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?

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)