Last week, a jury hit Goodyear Tire & Rubber with a $65 million verdict in a trade secrets case in Akron presided over by U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Judge Sara Lioi.  On its face, one would surmise the verdict was a major win for the plaintiff CODA Development, but a closer review reveals that it may not have been after all.  According to Law360, CODA’s lawyers asked for between $89 million and $246 million, but the jury only awarded $2.8 million in compensatory damages to CODA; the remaining $62.1 million is for punitive damages, which I expect will be significantly scaled back by Judge Lioi.  This is a case that has been vigorously litigated since 2015 and has already been up on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, meaning that both sides have incurred millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees.  In short, as I explain below, this verdict has all the earmarks of Phyrric victory –a victory that comes at great cost, perhaps making winning the ordeal not worth it.  The case should serve as a compelling reminder about the unpredictability of jury trials, and the wisdom of pulling out all stops to resolve a case before trial.
Continue Reading Anatomy of a Phyrric Victory: Did Defendant Goodyear Tire and Plaintiff CODA Development Both Lose a $65 Million Trade Secrets Case?

Trade secret and restrictive covenants are messy affairs.  Accusations of theft, claims of betrayal of trust, skullduggery, late night visits to the office to remove documents, thumb drives and share files, computer forensics.  But there is always a need to cut through this volatile morass and get to the heart of the dispute to determine whether there is truly a breach of an obligation triggering the right to relief from a court or jury.

In virtually all trade secret cases, there is a written agreement at the center of the dispute–a restrictive covenant, or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), or an inventorship agreement or a licensing agreement–that should determine the obligations, if any, of the parties over the information at issue.  If the trade secret owner is seeking a TRO or preliminary injunction, that request for an injunction should ensure an important decision is rendered promptly so that the parties get the necessary clarity over any obligations over that information.  But what happens if a trade secret owner instead elects to seek damages or doesn’t have the grounds for an immediate injunction?  Is there a tool that helps a party cut through these issues, frame the important questions for the court, and move its case forward?  Let me introduce you to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) and the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), two critical mechanisms that should help parties in a trade secret dispute streamline their case.
Continue Reading So You Say You Want a Bifurcation: Imposing Order and Framing the Issues in a Chaotic Trade Secrets Case

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

The 10-year legal brawl between Goldman Sachs and its former programmer Sergey Aleynikov has spilled over into multiple courts — a federal conviction that was overturned, another conviction by a New York state jury still on appeal today, and finally, the fight in two different courts over payment of his defense fees.  While the prosecutions have garnered considerable media attention, the civil litigation over Aleynikov’s demand for advancement of his $10 million in legal fees from Goldman is the most relevant for civil litigators.  Why?  An order granting advancement, which requires the employer to pay for the former employee’s attorneys fees, can fundamentally alter the course of a trade secret litigation.  Last week, the U.S. District Court for New Jersey rejected Aleynikov’s claims for advancement, declining to essentially reconsider a Delaware court’s ruling that Aleynikov had failed to demonstrate that he qualified for advancement under Goldman’s bylaws.  As I explain below, the ruling is an important reminder for both employers and employees in trade secret disputes of the power of advancement claims, and the determined resistance an employee may face if he or she pursues that claim.

Continue Reading How Sergey Aleynikov’s 10 Year Legal Battle Highlights The Pros and Cons of Advancement Claims in Trade Secret Disputes

The issue of trade secret identification, on its face, seems like an elementary and uncontroversial one.  In concept, every trade secret plaintiff should be expected to identify the trade secrets in the lawsuit it brings.  After all, the plaintiff knows best what it considers to be a trade secret and what it doesn’t consider to be a trade secret, and the defendant shouldn’t be left to guess what those trade secrets might be.  For these and other reasons, California, a key bellwether state for trade secret law, has long required by statute that a party claiming trade secret misappropriation identify those trade secrets with specificity before being permitted to conduct discovery relating to its trade secret claim.  However, nothing tests the limits of common sense like the realities of litigation, and plaintiffs in California have complained that this procedure has been misused by defendants to frustrate or derail otherwise meritorious trade secret cases.  Perhaps for these reasons, courts outside California remain divided over the so-called California rule as several recent rulings have demonstrated.
Continue Reading Are Other States Following California’s Lead On Trade Secret Identification?

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

Thursday Wrap-Up (July 4, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
Continue Reading Thursday Wrap-Up (July 4, 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