Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA)

As you will see, I have changed the format of my monthly wrap up post in two ways.  First, I am going to start including links to noteworthy decisions that I come across or are forwarded to me.  Unfortunately, since neither I nor other bloggers writing in this space can cover everything, this will be a useful feature for those practicing in this area.  Second, I am going to provide more commentary on some posts and cases, in the hope of creating further dialogue on many trade secret and non-compete issues.  Given the hot button nature of some of these issues, I am going to share my thoughts, for whatever they are worth.  Now, on to posts and links from the last month:

Legislative Developments

  • Last week, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy and Ron Wyden announced their intention to introduce the Workers Mobility Act (WMA) that would abolish non-competes throughout the United States.  As many of you will recall, Senator Murphy previously introduced a similar bill, the Mobility and Opportunity for Vulnerability Employees Act (MOVE) but that bill stalled on the Senate floor.  Russell Beck has a post with a link to the House and Senate bills, along with his well-reasoned concerns about the breadth and scope of the bills.
  • A blog post about legislation over non-competes wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t some mention of some activity in Massachusetts.  Key features of the latest bill under serious consideration would limit non-competes to 12 months (unless the employee stole trade secrets or breached his fiduciary duty) and finally adopt the UTSA.  For more details, see Russell Beck’s post in his Fair Competition Blog.
  • Idaho (repealing its recent changes in 2016) and Utah (restricting their use against broadcasters) have recently amended their statutes addressing restrictive covenants.  See Russell Beck again.
  • Colorado has modified its law affecting physician non-competes, carving out protections for physicians treating patients with rare genetic disorders to eliminate any interruption of care for those patients.  Peter Greene summarizes the changes in Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Employee Mobility Blog.

Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (May 8, 2018): Noteworthy Trade Secret and Non-Compete Cases, Developments and Posts

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?

Given the increasing number and quality of fine posts about trade secret, non-compete and cybersecurity issues, I am resurrecting my regular updates post  (although it will be monthly rather than weekly).  Without further adieu, here are the noteworthy posts of the past month:

Defend Trade Secrets Act:

  • With the recent passage of the 1-year anniversary of the DTSA, there have been a number of interesting posts that have detailed compilations about the cases filed with DTSA claims over the past year.    Professor David Opderbeck of Seton Hall has an interesting guest post for Patently O and Fish & Richardson’s Claire Collins, Jeffrey Schneidman and Carol Simons have some noteworthy statistics in their Litigation Blog as well.
  • Finnegan’s John Williamson, Paula Miller and Jon Self have a guest post nicely summarizing the extra-territorial reach of the DTSA and other statutes for the IP Watchdog.
  • Robert Milligan and Josh Salinas offer their take on likely developments for the DTSA in its second year in Seyfarth’s Trading Secrets Blog.
  • Maxwell Goss has a post that suggests that reports of the death of the inevitable disclosure doctrine under the DTSA may be greatly exaggerated in his Law and the Creative Economy Blog.

Continue Reading Monthly Wrap Up (June 16, 2017): Noteworthy Trade Secret, Non-Compete and Cybersecurity Posts from the Web

Yesterday, Uber released a letter that it had sent to Anthony Levandowski notifying him of its intention to terminate him as an employee because of his failure to cooperate with an Order issued on May 11, 2017 by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup.   While most of the media coverage of the case had previously focused on the portion of the Order effectively quarantining Levandowski from Uber’s development of its LiDAR technology, perhaps the most noteworthy portions of the Order proved to be Judge Alsup’s directives to Uber to get to the bottom of what Waymo trade secrets Levandowski might have shared with others at Uber.  (A link to Judge Alsup’s Order can be found here).  As I explain below, those two paragraphs of Judge Alsup’s Order inevitably set Uber against Levandowski and led to his termination.
Continue Reading Why Uber’s Firing of Anthony Levandowski Became Inevitable

waymo_largeThere have been two significant developments in the Waymo lawsuit against Uber, which is unquestionably the highest profile trade secrets case of the year.  In the first ruling, U.S. District Court William Alsup referred the record of the case to the U.S. Attorney’s office for investigation of possible theft of trade secrets.  In the second, Judge Alsup released a copy of his opinion yesterday explaining the injunction that he entered against Uber last week.  Significantly, Judge Alsup declined Waymo’s primary request to shut down Uber’s driverless car business.

Instead, he ordered that Uber continue to quarantine former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski from its development of Uber’s Lidar technology, the technology that was the subject of the trade secrets he was alleged to have stolen.  Judge Alsup declined to shutdown of Uber’s driverless program because Waymo could not establish that Uber had used the trade secrets that Levandowski allegedly took with him.

Referring the record for a pending civil case to the local federal prosecutor is highly unusual (in fact, I can’t remember it being done) and appears to be directed at Levandowski and his other former Waymo colleagues who joined him at Uber.  However, the injunction looks like a victory for Uber, at least at this early stage in the proceeding. Continue Reading Waymo v. Uber: What Judge Alsup’s Injunction and Criminal Referral Mean for Uber

Here are some noteworthy posts from the past week and some catch-up on other posts from the past couple of weeks:
 
Trade Secret and Non-Compete Cases, Posts and Articles:

  • “CBS Settles Dispute Over ABC’s ‘Glass House,'” reports Law360. For more on this long-running trade secrets dispute, see my posts from last year here and here.
  • In “Bloomberg reveals safeguards for client info,” The Wall Street Journal reports on the various safeguards Bloomberg is committing to after the imbroglio last year when its journalists improperly accessed and reported on the subscriber information of its Wall Street clients.
  • “Failure To Define Trade Secrets Establishes Subjective Bad Faith For Attorneys’ Fees Award Under California UTSA,” advises James Goodman for Epstein Becker’s Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog.
  • “Do Non-Compete Agreements Stifle Innovation?” Distil Networks CEO Rami Essaid and LevelEleven CEO Bob Marsh debate the impact of non-compete agreements.
  • “Concerns Over Economic Growth Leads Some States to Limit Non-Compete Agreements,” advises John Paul Nefflen for Burr & Forman’s Non-Compete Trade Secrets Blog.
  • “How to draft an enforceable noncompete agreement in 5 steps,” recommends Jon Hyman for the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog.
  • “Do the Final Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ Qualify As Trade Secrets?” asks Kenneth Vanko in his Legal Developments in Non-Competition Agreements Blog.
  • “New Hampshire Court Voids Non-Compete Clause in Independent Contractor Agreement,” reports Paul Freehling for Seyfarth Shaw’s Trading Secrets Blog.
  • “On Non-Compete Agreements: A Response to the Wall Street Journal’s Recent Article,” advises Jonathan Pollard for the non-compete blog.
  • For those in Michigan, “Dana Can’t Prove Trade Secrets Theft, Judge Rules,” reports Law360.
  • For more on the Dana case, see, “Accessing trade secrets is not the same as misappropriating trade secrets” by Tim Bukher for LawTechie.
  • “Is the DOJ Avoiding Domestic Trade Secret Cases?” asks Jan Wolfe for The AmLaw Litigation Daily.
  • “You Need To Work Harder To Fight Trade Secret Theft,” warn Michael Bunis and Anna Dray-Siegel of Choate Hall & Stewart LLP for Law360.
  • For those in Massachusetts, see Michael Rosen’s recent post, “More on ‘Material Change’ and Legislative Update,” for Foley Hoag’s Massachusetts Noncompete Law Blog.

Cybersecurity Posts and Articles:

  • “White House Posts Preliminary Cybersecurity Incentives,” advises Jessica Goldenberg for Proskauer’s Privacy Law Blog.
  • “Tackling Cyber Security Challenges in the Healthcare Industry,” reports Healthtech.

Computer Fraud & Abuse Act Posts and Articles:

  • “IP Cloaking Violates Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Judge Rules,” advises David Kravets for Wired.
  • “Southern District of Georgia Judge Narrowly Construes Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” advises Neil Weinrich for Berman Fink Van Horn’s Georgia Non-Compete and Trade Secrets News Blog.
  • David Nosal’s criminal conviction under the CFAA has been upheld by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, reports Bob Egelko in, “Executive’s conviction upheld in trade-secrets theft,” for SFGate.
  • “It’s Time to Reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” argues Scientific American.

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)