shutterstock_511683898On May 11, 2017, a Northern District of Illinois federal court ruled that a Plaintiff properly alleged misappropriation under both the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA) in a case where the employee downloaded files onto a personal thumb drive and then went to a competitor.

Plaintiff  Molon Motor and Coil Corporation (“Molon”) contended that its former Head of Quality Control, Manish Desai, downloaded confidential data onto a portable data drive before leaving Molon for a competitor, Nidec Motor Corporation (“Nidec”). Molon further contended that Desai provided the confidential data to Nidec and Nidec then used (and continues to use) the confidential data to compete with Molon. Nidec filed a Motion to Dismiss Molon’s Complaint against Nidec (Molon did not sue Desai) on the basis that Molon could not state a claim under the DTSA or the ITSA because a) Desai downloaded the trade secrets while still employed by Molon, and b) Molon did not make a plausible allegation that Nidec used the trade secrets. Continue Reading Illinois Federal Court Allows Inevitable Disclosure Theory in Defend Trade Secrets Act Case

webinarTrade secret identification and protection is more critical than ever for employers. Technology is consuming the way we do business, and new laws concerning trade secrets and the content of employment agreements make trade secret identification and protection more critical than ever.
On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, Seyfarth attorneys Robert B. Milligan and D. Joshua Salinas, joined by Jim Vaughn, one of California’s leading computer forensics experts, will present Trade Secret Protection: What Every Employer Needs to Know. This is the fourth installment in our 2017 Trade Secrets Webinar Series.
This webinar is designed to help employers navigate the tricky trade secrets waters and to provide best practices for trade secret protection. The panel will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • How to best identify and protect trade secrets
  • What employers need to know about the DTSA
  • Effective use of restrictive covenants in employment agreements
  • How to catch a trade secret thief
  • Responses to potential trade secret theft
  • Choosing the right court to protect trade secrets
  • Consideration for suing under federal vs. state trade secret laws (or both)

Please join us for this informative webinar:

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shutterstock_494317324On May 19, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law several amendments to the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”), located in Chapter 134A of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. The amendments go into effect on September 1, 2017.  In doing so, Texas has aligned its statute more closely with federal law and codified recent judicial interpretations of the law.

Two events precipitated the amendments, one legislative, one judicial.  In the first, Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) in May 2017, which provides a federal cause of action for trade-secret misappropriation. In the second, the Texas Supreme Court announced in In re M-I L.L.C., 505 S.W.3d 569 (Tex. 2016) that a presumption exists that a party is authorized to participate and assist in the defense of a trade-secret misappropriation claim under TUTSA, which presumption cannot be surmounted unless the trial court considers a seven-factor balancing test.  These events resulted in the following key changes to the TUTSA: Continue Reading Texas Legislature Clarifies and Expands the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act

shutterstock_526002034This blog originally appeared in ALM Intellectual Property Strategist.

One year after its enactment, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) continues to be one of the most significant and closely followed developments in trade secret law. The statute provides for a federal civil cause of action for trade secret theft, protections for whistleblowers, and new remedies (e.g., ex parte seizure of property), that were not previously available under state trade secret laws. The less than 70 reported DTSA cases to date provide an early glimpse into how courts may interpret the statute going forward and what early concerns about the statute may have been exaggerated.

Overstated Ex Parte Seizure Concerns

The ex parte seizure provision of the DTSA was one of the most controversial provisions of the statute during its drafting. The provision allows a trade secret holder to request, without notice to the alleged wrongdoer, that a district judge order federal law enforcement officials to seize property to prevent the propagation or dissemination of trade secrets. Opponents of the DTSA argued that the ex parte seizure provision would open the door to abuse by purported “trade secret litigation trolls” and increase litigation costs. The cases to date involving the seizure provision suggest that those early concerns may not materialize. Continue Reading Emerging Issues In the Defend Trade Secrets Act’s Second Year

shutterstock_534162337A Northern District of California court recently held a plaintiff could amend its complaint to add a Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) claim when discovery showed continued misappropriation after the enactment of the DTSA on May 11, 2016.

In VIA Technologies, Inc. v. ASUS Computer International, No. 14-CV-03586-BLF, 2017 WL 491172 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2017), VIA filed suit against ASUS, alleging infringement of VIA’s patent and trade secret misappropriation of VIA’s intellectual property related to its USB technology. VIA’s second amended complaint was filed in July 2015 prior to the enactment of the DTSA on May 11, 2016.

During discovery, ASUS produced data related to sales of products that allegedly incorporated VIA’s trade secrets. This data was produced in supplemental productions on November 16, 2016, and on December 22, 2016. VIA claims this data supports the alleged continuation of trade secret misappropriation after the enactment of the DTSA, and therefore, requests to add the claim. VIA claims it also inadvertently overlooked the sales data believing the November 16, 2016, production was merely a “re-production.” VIA filed the instant motion on January 4, 2017, after ASUS refused to stipulate to an amendment to add a claim under DTSA. Continue Reading Court Allows Plaintiff to Amend Complaint to Add Defend Trade Secrets Act Claim After Discovery Reveals Alleged Continued Misappropriation

shutterstock_330853187It is well known that 18 U.S.C. § 1836, et seq. (the Defend Trade Secrets Act or “DTSA”) finally provides a mechanism for pursing trade secret claims in federal court. A recent decision, however, serves as an excellent reminder that failure to establish personal jurisdiction over a defendant will nevertheless result in dismissal of your DTSA claim—and potentially your entire case. So, before you rush off and file that DTSA claim in your local federal court, carefully consider if it’s really the right court after all.

In Gold Medal Products Co. v. Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Inc., 1:16-CV-00365, 2017 WL 1365798 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 14, 2017), the plaintiff filed suit in the U.S.D.C. for Southern District of Ohio against its former employee, William Sunderhaus, and his new employer, Bell Flavors, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information. As part of its lawsuit, Plaintiff asserted a DTSA claim, which Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Continue Reading Don’t Forget to Establish Personal Jurisdiction in Defend Trade Secrets Act Cases

shutterstock_532304278This past Spring, we reported on the recently enacted Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), which provides a new federal civil cause of action to trade secret owners seeking to pursue claims of trade secret misappropriation.  Last week, the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts addressed the whistleblower immunity provision of the DTSA, which protects anyone who discloses a trade secret in confidence to a government official or an attorney “solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law.”  In denying an employee’s motion to dismiss his employer’s DTSA claim, the district court held that a defendant must present evidence to justify the immunity.  The case is Unum Group v. Loftus, No. 16-cv-40154-TSH (D. Mass. December 6, 2016). Continue Reading Federal Court Rejects Defend Trade Secrets Act Whistleblower Immunity Defense on a Motion to Dismiss and Orders Employee to Return Stolen Trade Secrets

shutterstock_370595594We are pleased to announce the webinar “Trade Secret Audits: You Can’t Protect What You Don’t Know You Have” is now available as a webinar recording.

In Seyfarth’s ninth installment in the 2016 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, attorneys Robert Milligan, Eric Barton, and Scott Atkinson focused on trade secret audits. It is not uncommon for companies to find themselves in situations where important assets are overlooked or taken for granted. Yet, those same assets can be lost or compromised in a moment through what is often benign neglect. Experience has shown that companies gain tremendous value by taking a proactive, systematic approach to assessing and protecting their trade secret portfolios through a trade secret audit.

As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a summary of three takeaways that were discussed during the webinar:

  • As part of any trade secret audit, confidentiality agreements should be updated to include the new immunity language required by the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) to preserve the company’s right to exemplary damages and attorney’s fees under the DTSA.
  • A trade secret audit, and the resulting protection plan, should have three primary goals:

(1)  Ensure that a company’s trade secrets are adequately identified and protected from disclosure;

(2)  Ensure that a company has taken adequate steps to protect itself in litigation if a trade secret is misappropriated; and

(3)  Limit the risk of exposure to other companies’ claims of trade secret misappropriation.

  • As part of a trade secret audit, onboarding and off-boarding procedures are evaluated to ensure that the intellectual property rights of third parties and the company are respected.

DTSA Cover ImageOn May 11, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”), which Congress passed April 27, 2016. So, what does the passage of the DTSA mean for your company?

In a nutshell, the DTSA “federalizes” trade secret law by creating a federal claim for trade secret misappropriation and creates new remedies, including an ex parte seizure order to recover misappropriated trade secrets. It also serves as a reminder that trade secrets can be highly valuable to your company and that you should ensure that your company has reasonable secrecy measures in place to protect them.

Nevertheless, the DTSA also imposes new obligations on employers. To take full advantage of the remedies provided under the DTSA, companies have an immediate obligation to provide certain disclosures in all non-disclosure agreements with employees, contractors, and consultants that are entered into or updated following the statute’s effective date.

Seyfarth’s DTSA Desktop Reference guide describes the DTSA’s unique legal structure and remedies. We also provide tips and strategies in light of the passage of the DTSA.

How to get your DTSA Desktop Reference guide:

This publication may be requested from your Seyfarth contact in hard copy or eBook format (compatible with PCs, Macs and most major mobile devices). The eBook is fully searchable and offers the ability to bookmark useful sections and make notations for easy future reference.

To request the DTSA Desktop Reference guide in eBook or hard copy, please click the button below:

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Cross Posted from California Peculiarities.

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Protecting trade secrets from employee theft requires more than using an NDA when onboarding employees. If businesses want to protect confidential information, they need a cradle-to-grave approach, reiterating employee obligations regularly, including during exit interviews. (Yes, you need to do exit interviews!)

Headline stories in intellectual property theft tend to involve foreign hackers engaged in high-tech attacks to pilfer vast troves of data stored by big businesses or government entities, such as those involving Russian government hackers or the Chinese military. The losses are staggering. In 2009, McAfee estimated that cybercrime cost worldwide economies $1 Trillion. That number was cited by (a then-youthful) President Obama in his first speech on cybersecurity. Since that time, attacks by professionals and nation states have remained at the forefront of both news reports and the public perception. Since then, hack attacks have remained at the forefront of both news reports and the public perception.

But despite the disproportionate attention given to high value, high-tech attacks by outsiders, many U.S. businesses recognize that threats from the inside are just as costly as revealed by a 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey. Nevertheless, “only 49%” of organizations surveyed had “a plan for responding to insider threats.”

Trade secrets are particularly susceptible to theft because they, by definition, consist of secret information with economic value. Company insiders often find that information too tempting to be leave behind when changing employers, or when seeking new employment. Therein lies the problem.

Trade secret theft by employees may not grab as many headlines as neo-Cold War espionage, but the data suggest that employees, not outsiders, pose the greatest threat of loss from trade secret theft. The good news is that a little proactivity by employers will go a long way toward keeping them out of the 49% who lack a plan to prevent leaks.

Of course, in California, obtaining protection is not all that simple. Non-compete agreements are, with very limited exceptions, a non-starter under Business and Professions Code § 16600, so you need special steps to keep your trade secret house in order. And because a California trade secret plaintiff (e.g., a former employer suing its former employee) likely must identify its trade secrets with reasonable particularity before commencing discovery, it pays to invest time on the front end to identify and inventory your trade secret information before litigation arises.

So, what can employers do?

Update Non-Disclosure Agreements to Comply With the DTSA, and See That Employees Know Why NDAs Are Important

Almost all employers (we hope) have confidential/non-disclosure and trade secret protection provisions in their employment agreements. But have these agreements been updated to comply with the recently enacted Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) and its important employee/whistleblower notification provisions? And what are employers doing to help ensure compliance with their agreements? Rolling out new agreements is relatively easy. Making sure they are effective takes some doing.

Remember, your organization will not even have trade secrets to protect unless it has made  “efforts reasonable under the circumstances” (under the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act) or has taken “reasonable measures” (under the DTSA) to maintain the secrecy of the information it claims to be a trade secret. Cal. Civ. Code § 3426.1(d); 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3)(A).

Implement Computer Use and Social Media Agreements and Policies

Most trade secret theft occurs via electronic device. Make sure your company has computer use and access policies and agreements that:

  • Set forth that company computers, network, related devices, and information stored therein belong to the company;
  • Indicate that access to company computers and networks are password-protected, with access authorized only for work-related purposes;
  • Make use of data storage/access hierarchies, with the most valuable information being accessible on only a need-to-know basis, with security access redundancies (housed in a highly secure database that requires unique user credentials distinct from the log-in credentials the employee uses to access a computer workstation);
  • Identify which devices are allowed in the workplace—BYOD practices have become popular, but also present challenges in regulating information flow and return. If employees use their own devices to perform work for the company, make clear that the company data on those devices belong to the company;
  • Notify employees that the company reserves the right to inspect devices used for work to ensure that no company data exist on the devices upon termination of employment;
  • Define whether cloud storage may be used by employees, under what terms, and what happens when employment ends;
  • Define whether external storage devices (e.g., thumb drives) are allowed and under what terms; and
  • Identify whether and how employees may use social media associated with their work—trade secrets must never be publicly disclosed, but beware of any overreach that would suppress employee communications protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

Build a Culture of Confidentiality—Make Sure Employees Know What The Company Regards as Confidential and Then Remind Them Routinely

Employees need to understand what information your company considers confidential.  Educating employees on this subject should start at the beginning of employment, continue  throughout employment,  and recur at the end of employment. Tools that can help in this regard include:

  • Onboarding procedures to emphasize the importance of company confidential information;
  • Including in NDAs an express representation that the employee does not possess and will not use while in your employ confidential information belonging to any former employer or other third party;
  • Using yearly (or more frequent) brief interactive e-modules emphasizing the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of company information;
  • Requiring that the employee sit for an exit interview; and
  • Requiring that the employee certify in writing, during exit interviews, that they have returned all company information and property (the employee may provide property on the spot or make statements about what will be returned—you should inventory all such indicated property and information).

Properly Exiting Employees—Particularly for High Risk Employees—Matters!

Not all employees present the same risk of loss. Generally, the loftier an employee is in the corporate hierarchy the greater the threat that that employee will expose company confidential information. The following recommendations are for mid-to-high risk departing employees:

  • The person conducting the exit interview must be prepared—use a checklist;
  • “Preparedness” for higher-risk employees will include (1) identifying, before the exit interview, the trade secret and confidential information the employee routinely accessed and used during employment, (2) reviewing for unusual activity the departing employee’s computer and work activities (including card key facility access data, where available) in the days and weeks leading up to their exit, (3) using an exit certification as noted above, and (4) inquiring where the employee is going and what position the employee will hold;
  • Where initial investigation warrants, discreetly interview company-friendly co-workers of the departing employee to identify potentially suspicious conduct;
  • Immediately shut down the departing employee’s access to company computers, networks, and other data repositories (e.g., cloud or other off-site storage). Cutting off access to company computer and data may be warranted before exiting the employee, depending on the perceived risk of data theft;
  • Send a reminder-of-obligations letter to the now former employee, reciting ongoing obligations to the company and attaching, where useful, a copy of the NDA the employee has signed;
  • Consider notifying the new employer, but tread carefully here to avoid overstepping or providing a basis to be accused of interfering with the employment relationship between your former employee and the new employer; and
  • Depending on the threat level you perceive, consider having a departing employees’ emails preserved and their electronic devices forensically imaged.

With best practices in place, protecting your company’s trade secrets should be more like routine, but vigilant maintenance, than preparing to do cyber battle with foreign states. Organizations understandably focus on creating the next “big thing,” increasing sales, and building investor value, but slowing down enough to be purposeful in protecting intellectual property is a must.