“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