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.
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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.

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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.
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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.


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Thursday Wrap-Up (July 4, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Covenant Not to Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
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Thursday Wrap-Up (May 2, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
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Thursday Wrap-Up (April 18, 2013): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity News from the Web
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