We are pleased to announce the webinar “2016
National Year In Review:webinar What You Need to Know About the Recent Cases/Developments in Trade Secrets, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law” is now available as a webinar recording.

In Seyfarth’s first installment of its 2017 Trade Secrets Webinar series, Seyfarth attorneys reviewed noteworthy cases and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the areas of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud. Plus, they provided their predictions for what to watch for in 2017.

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

  • The DTSA can be a powerful tool to protect intellectual capital. However, in order to take full advantage of the DTSA, businesses should carefully check their agreements with employees, handbooks and equity awards to make sure they contain language mandated by the Defend Trade Secrets Act.
  • 2016 was a record year for data and information security breaches. Organizations should alert and train employees on following company policies, spotting potential social engineering attacks, and having a clear method to escalate potential security risks. Employee awareness, coupled with technological changes towards better security will reduce risk and exposure to liability.
  • Several states enacted laws to limit the scope and duration of non-competes in 2016. There were also some significant decisions limiting their scope and enforceability in 2016 as well. Companies should have their non-disclosure and non-compete agreements reviewed to ensure that they comply with the latest state and federal laws, including the new Defend Trade Secrets Act.

shutterstock_533123590Continuing our annual tradition, we present the top developments/headlines for 2016 in trade secret, computer fraud, and non-compete law. Please join us for our first webinar of the New Year on February 2, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. Central, where we will discuss these new developments, their potential implications, and our predictions for 2017.

1. Defend Trade Secrets Act

One of the most significant developments of 2016 that will likely have a profound impact on trade secret cases in the coming years was the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”). The DTSA creates a new federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation, albeit it does not render state law causes of action irrelevant or unimportant. The DTSA was passed after several years and many failed attempts. The bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support, as well as backing from the business community.

The DTSA now allows trade secret owners to sue in federal court for trade secret misappropriation, and seek remedies previously unavailable. Employers should be aware that the DTSA contains a whistleblower immunity provision, which protects individuals from criminal or civil liability for disclosing a trade secret if such disclosure is made in confidence to a government official or attorney, indirectly or directly. The provision applies to those reporting violations of law or who file lawsuits alleging employer retaliation for reporting a suspected violation of law, subject to certain specifications (i.e., trade secret information to be used in a retaliation case must be filed under seal). This is significant for employers because it places an affirmative duty on them to give employees notice of this provision in “any contract or agreement with an employee that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.” Employers who do not comply with this requirement forfeit the ability to recoup exemplary damages or attorneys’ fees under the DTSA in an action against an employee to whom no notice was ever provided.

At least one federal district court has rejected an employee’s attempts to assert whistleblower immunity under the DTSA. In Unum Group v. Loftus, No. 4:16-CV-40154-TSH, 2016 WL 7115967 (D. Mass. Dec. 6, 2016), the federal district court for the district of Massachusetts denied a defendant employee’s motion to dismiss and held that a defendant must present evidence to justify the whistleblower immunity.

We anticipate cases asserting claims under the DTSA will be a hot trend and closely followed in 2017. For further information about the DTSA, please see our webinar “New Year, New Progress: 2016 Update on Defend Trade Secrets Act & EU Directive.”

2. EU Trade Secrets Directive

On May 27, 2016, the European Council unanimously approved its Trade Secrets Directive, which marks a sea-change in protection of trade secrets throughout the European Union (“EU”). Each of the EU’s 28 member states will have a period of 24 months to enact national laws that provide at least the minimum levels of protections afforded to trade secrets by the directive. Similar to the DTSA, the purpose of the EU’s Trade Secrets Directive was to provide greater consistency in trade secrets protection throughout the EU. For further information about the EU’s Trade Secrets Directive, please see our webinar “New Year, New Progress: 2016 Update on Defend Trade Secrets Act & EU Directive.”

3. Government Agencies Continue to Scrutinize the Scope of Non-Disclosure and Restrictive Covenant Agreements

Fresh off of signing the DTSA, the Obama White House released a report entitled “Non-Compete Reform: A Policymaker’s Guide to State Policies,” which relied heavily on Seyfarth Shaw’s “50 State Desktop Reference: What Employers Need to Know About Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Law” and contained information on state policies related to the enforcement of non-compete agreements. Additionally, the White House issued a “Call to Action” that encouraged state legislators to adopt policies to reduce the misuse of non-compete agreements and recommended certain reforms to state law books. The Non-Compete Reform report analyzed the various states that have enacted statutes governing the enforcement of non-compete agreements and the ways in which those statutes address aspects of non-compete enforceability, including durational limitations; occupation-specific exemptions; wage thresholds; “garden leave;” enforcement doctrines; and prior notice requirements.

With those issues in mind, the Call to Action encourages state policymakers to pursue three “best-practice policy objectives”: (1) ban non-competes for categories of workers, including workers under a certain wage threshold; workers in occupations that promote public health and safety; workers who are unlikely to possess trade secrets; or workers who may suffer adverse impacts from non-competes, such as workers terminated without cause; (2) improve transparency and fairness of non-competes by, for example, disallowing non-competes unless they are proposed before a job offer or significant promotion has been accepted; providing consideration over and above continued employment; or encouraging employers to better inform workers about the law in their state and the existence of non-competes in contracts and how they work; and (3) incentivize employers to write enforceable contracts and encourage the elimination of unenforceable provisions by, for example, promotion of the use of the “red pencil doctrine,” which renders contracts with unenforceable provisions void in their entirety.

While some large employers have embraced the Call to Action, even reform-minded employers are likely to be wary of some of these proposals. Moreover, this initiative may die or be limited with the new Trump administration.

On October 20, 2016, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) jointly issued their “Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals.” The Guidance explains how antitrust law applies to employee hiring and compensation practices. The agencies also issued a “quick reference card” that lists a number of “antitrust red flags for employment practices.” In a nutshell, agreements (whether formal or informal) among employers to limit or fix the compensation paid to employees or to refrain from soliciting or hiring each other’s employees are per se violations of the antitrust laws. Also, even if competitors don’t explicitly agree to limit or suppress compensation, the mere exchange of compensation information among employers may violate the antitrust laws if it has the effect of suppressing compensation.

In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has issued numerous decisions in which workplace rules were found to unlawfully restrict employees’ Section 7 rights. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied Quicken Loans, Inc.’s petition for review of an NLRB decision finding that confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions in the company’s Mortgage Banker Employment Agreement unreasonably burdened employees’ rights under Section 7 of the NLRA.

4. New State Legislation Regarding Restrictive Covenants

Oregon has limited the duration of employee non-competes to two years effective January 1, 2016. Utah has enacted the Post-Employment Restrictions Amendments, which limits restrictive covenants to a one-year time period from termination. Any restrictive covenant that is entered into on or after May 10, 2016, for more than one year will be void. Notably, Utah’s new law does not provide for a court to blue pencil an agreement (i.e., revise/modify to the extent it becomes enforceable), rather the agreement as a whole will be deemed void if it is determined to be unreasonable.

In what appears to have become an annual tradition, Massachusetts legislators have attempted to pass legislation regarding non-competes, to no avail. Two other states in New England, however, are able to claim accomplishments in that regard. Specifically, Connecticut and Rhode Island each enacted statutes last summer imposing significant restrictions on the use of non-compete provisions in any agreement that establishes employment or any other form of professional relationship with physicians. While Connecticut’s law limits only the duration and geographic scope of physician non-competes, Rhode Island completely banned such provisions in almost all agreements entered into with physicians.

5. Noteworthy Trade Secret, Computer Fraud, and Non-Compete Cases

In Golden Road Motor Inn, Inc. v. Islam, 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 49 (2016), the Supreme Court of Nevada refused to adopt the “blue pencil” doctrine when it ruled that an unreasonable provision in a non-compete agreement rendered the entire agreement unenforceable. Accordingly, this means that employers conducting business in Nevada should ensure that non-compete agreements with their employees are reasonably necessary to protect the employers’ interests. Specifically, the scope of activities prohibited, the time limits, and geographic limitations contained in the non-compete agreements should all be reasonable. If an agreement contains even one overbroad or unreasonable provision, the employer risks having the entire agreement invalidated and being left without any recourse against an employee who violates the agreement.

The Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed a $600,000 judgment, plus attorneys’ fees and costs, against an ex-employee who violated his non-compete when he assisted his son’s start-up company compete with the ex-employee’s former employer. See Pattridge v. Starks, No. 50,351-CA (Louisiana Court of Appeal, Feb. 24, 2016) (Endurall III).

A Massachusetts Superior Court judge struck down a skin care salon’s attempt to make its non-compete agreement seem prettier than it actually was. In denying the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the court stressed that employees’ conventional job knowledge and skills, without more, would not constitute a legitimate business interest worth safeguarding. See Elizabeth Grady Face First, Inc. v. Garabedian et al., No. 16-799-D (Mass. Super. Ct. March 25, 2016).

In a case involving alleged violations of the Kansas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“KUTSA”) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), a Kansas federal district court granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that (a) payments to forensic experts did not satisfy the KUTSA requirement of showing an “actual loss caused by misappropriation” (K.S.A. 60-3322(a)), and (b) defendant was authorized to access the company’s shared files and, therefore, he did not violate the CFAA. See Tank Connection, LLC v. Haight, No. 6:13-cv-01392-JTM (D. Kan., Feb. 5, 2016) (Marten, C.J.).

The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the employee’s restrictive covenants were unenforceable when the employer had not provided the employee with any confidential information or specialized training. See Davis v. Johnstone Group, Inc., No. W2015-01884-COA-R3-CV (Mar. 9, 2016).

Reversing a 2-1 decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the state’s Supreme Court held unanimously that an assets purchase-and-sale contract containing an unreasonable territorial non-competition restriction is unenforceable Further, a court in that state must strike, and may not modify, the unreasonable provision. See Beverage Systems of the Carolinas, LLC v. Associated Beverage Repair, LLC, No. 316A14 (N.C. Sup. Court, Mar. 18, 2016).

The Ohio Court of Appeal upheld a non-compete giving the former employer discretion to determine whether an ex-employee was working for a competitor. See Saunier v. Stark Truss Co., Case No. 2015CA00202 (Ohio App., May 23, 2016).

In a clash between two major oil companies, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on May 20, 2016, that the recently enacted Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”) allows the trial court discretion to exclude a company representative from portions of a temporary injunction hearing involving trade secret information. The Court further held a party has no absolute constitutional due-process right to have a designated representative present at the hearing.

A Texas Court of Appeals held on August 22, 2016, that a former employer was entitled to $2.8 million in attorneys’ fees against a former employee who used the employer’s information to compete against it. The Court reached this ruling despite the fact that the jury found no evidence that the employer sustained any damages or that the employee misappropriated trade secrets.

In Fidlar Technologies v. LPS Real Estate Data Solutions, Inc., Case No. 4:13-CV-4021 (7th Cir., Jan. 21, 2016), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s conclusion that a plaintiff had produced no evidence refuting the defendant’s contention that it honestly believed it was engaging in lawful business practices rather than intentionally deceiving or defrauding the plaintiff. Even though the plaintiff’s technology did not expressly permit third parties to access the digitized records and use the information without printing copies, thereby avoiding payment of fees to plaintiff, such access and use were not prohibited.

A divided Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the conviction of a former employee under the CFAA, holding that “[u]nequivocal revocation of computer access closes both the front door and the back door” to protected computers, and that using a password shared by an authorized system user to circumvent the revocation of the former employee’s access is a crime. See United States v. Nosal, (“Nosal II”) Nos. 14-10037, 14-10275 (9th Cir. July 5, 2016).

The Ninth Circuit in Facebook v. Power Ventures, Case No. 13-17154 (9th Cir. Jul. 12, 2016), held that defendant Power Ventures did not violate the CFAA when it made copies and extracted data from the social media website despite receiving a cease and desist letter. The court noted that Power’s users “arguably gave Power permission to use Facebook’s computers to disseminate messages” (further stating that “Power reasonably could have thought that consent from Facebook users to share the [Power promotion] was permission for Power to access Facebook’s computers”) (emphasis in original). Importantly, the court found that “[b]ecause Power had at least arguable permission to access Facebook’s computers, it did not initially access Facebook’s computers ‘without authorization’ within the meaning of the CFAA.”

6. Forum Selection Clauses

California enacted a new law (Labor Code § 925) that restrains the ability of employers to require employees to litigate or arbitrate employment disputes (1) outside of California or (2) under the laws of another state. The only exception is where the employee was individually represented by a lawyer in negotiating an employment contract. For companies with headquarters outside of California and employees who work and reside in California, this assault on the freedom of contract is not welcome news.

We also continued to see federal district courts enforcing forum selection clauses in restrictive covenant agreements. For example, a Massachusetts federal district court last fall transferred an employee’s declaratory judgment action to the Eastern District of Michigan pursuant to a forum-selection clause in a non-compete agreement over the employee’s argument that he had signed the agreement under duress because he was not told he would need to sign it until he had already spent the money and traveled all the way from India to the United States.

7. Security Breaches and Data Theft Remain Prevalent

2016 was a record year for data and information security breaches, one of the most notably being WikiLeaks’ release of emails purportedly taken from the Democratic National Committee’s email server. According to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, U.S. companies and government agencies saw a 40% increase in data breaches from 2015 and suffered over a thousand data breaches. Social engineering has become the number one cause of data breaches, leaks, and information theft. Organizations should alert and train employees on following policy, spotting potential social engineering attacks, and having a clear method to escalate potential security risks. Employee awareness, coupled with technological changes towards better security will reduce risk and exposure to liability. For technical considerations and best practices and policies of attorneys when in the possession of client data, please view our webinar, “A Big Target—Cybersecurity for Attorneys and Law Firms.”

8. The ITC’s Extraterritorial Authority in Trade Secret Disputes

In a case involving the misappropriation of U.S. trade secrets in China, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Section 337 of the Tariff Act does, in fact, authorize the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) to investigate misappropriation that occurred entirely outside the United States. See Sino Legend (Zhangjiangang) Chemical Co. Ltd. v. ITC. The crux of Sino Legend’s argument was that for a statute to apply abroad, there must be express congressional intent. Not surprisingly, Sino Legend argued that such intent was missing from Section 337 of the Tariff Act. In Tianrui Group Co. Ltd. v. ITC, 661 F.3d 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2011), the Federal Circuit held that such intent was manifest in the express inclusion of “the importation of articles … into the United States” which evidenced that Congress had more than domestic concerns in mind. On January 9, 2017, the Supreme Court denied Sino Legend’s petition for certiorari, thereby keeping the ITC’s doors open to trade secret holders seeking to remedy misappropriation occurring abroad. For valuable insight on protecting trade secrets and confidential information in China and other Asian countries, including the effective use of non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, please check out our recent webinar titled, “Trade Secret and Non-Compete Considerations in Asia.”

We thank everyone who followed us this year and we really appreciate all of your support. We will continue to provide up-to-the-minute information on the latest legal trends and cases in the U.S. and across the world, as well as important thought leadership and resource links and materials.

texas-imageApplying new Texas Supreme Court precedent, a Texas Court of Appeals recently held that a six-year-old cease-and-desist letter alleging trade-secret misappropriation did not constitute proof of knowledge for purposes of the discovery rule. By allowing for the accrual date of this claim to be deferred, the court appears to have made it easier for trade-secret plaintiffs to overcome the statute-of-limitations defense in the future.

According to the opinion issued by the First Court of Appeals in Houston, Garner Environmental Services, Inc. (“Garner”) provides disaster-response training and related services. In 2008, Garner’s then-vice president quit, formed a competing company called First in Rescue, Safety and Training, LLC (“FIRST”), and hired several Garner employees. In January 2009, Garner sent FIRST a letter accusing it of wrongfully using Garner’s customer lists, contacts, and other trade secrets to solicit Garner’s customers. Garner based these allegations solely on the fact that, shortly before sending this letter, Garner had learned that a client scheduled to attend one of Garner’s training classes switched at the last minute to attend a class held by FIRST instead. Later that month, FIRST responded that it had not stolen Garner’s trade secrets because Garner’s customer lists and contacts were readily available to the general public, could be replicated from memory, and were therefore not confidential information in the first instance. FIRST’s letter also pointed out that none of the former Garner employees had entered into non-compete or non-solicitation agreements while employed by Garner, so they were not prohibited from contacting Garner’s customers. Apparently, this mollified Garner because it did not file suit against FIRST at this time.

Fast-forward nearly five years: In late 2013, FIRST filed suit against a former employee that had gone to work for another competitor. At an unspecified time in 2014, after reviewing documents the employee had filed in that suit, Garner determined that FIRST had unlawfully used Garner’s confidential information. So, in July 2015—more than six years after sending the initial cease-and-desist letter in January 2009—Garner filed suit against FIRST asserting, inter alia, a claim for misappropriation of trade secrets. FIRST filed for summary judgment, arguing that all of Garner’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations because it discovered or should have discovered the nature of its injury in January 2009. Garner argued in response that the discovery rule applied and, as such, limitations did not begin to run until it discovered the injury in 2014 when it reviewed the documents filed in connection with the lawsuit FIRST’s former employee had asserted against a third party. The trial court granted FIRST’s motion and dismissed Garner’s claims with prejudice.

On appeal, the sole issue before the Court of Appeals was when Garner discovered, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the nature of its injury. Under the discovery rule, the accrual of a claim is deferred until the injured party learned of, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have learned of, the wrongful at causing the injury. Garner argued that the court of appeals was bound by the Texas Supreme Court’s recent decision in Southwestern Energy Production Co. v. Berry-Helfand, 491 S.W.3d 699 (Tex. 2016), which involved the discovery rule in the context of trade-secret misappropriation. In that case, the court held that surmise, suspicion, and accusation, even if sufficient to make one aware of a potential for misuse of trade secrets, are not facts that in the exercise of reasonable diligence would lead to the discovery of theft of trade secrets. Furthermore, the Southwestern court held that the defendant asserting the limitations defense “ha[d] not identified any evidence revealing what [the plaintiff] would have discovered had she made further inquiry.”

Finding “no meaningful differences between Southwestern and this case,” the Garner court noted that although Garner alleged in its January 2009 letter that FIRST had stolen its trade secrets, it had no facts to support these allegations other than mere suspicion that FIRST was competing with Garner’s clients. As in Southwestern, accusations were insufficient to establish knowledge of injury, the discovery rule applied. The Court of Appeals further noted that FIRST did not explain why it is entitled to have Garner’s statements of accusation construed as proof of knowledge while having its own statements of denial construed as “lawyer posturing” upon which Garner could not reasonably rely. The court thus rejected FIRST’s attempt to have its cake and eat it too.

FIRST also argued that Garner could have discovered the injury had it conducted presuit depositions under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 202, which it did not do. In order to take a presuit deposition under Rule 202, the petitioner must show that there is a reason that the deposition must occur before the anticipated lawsuit is filed, and not after. The Court of Appeals, however, reiterated that Garner lacked any proof of its suspicions and thus had no basis to establish that FIRST had any information in its possession that could justify a Rule 202 deposition. A petitioner is also entitled to conduct a Rule 202 deposition if it demonstrates that the likely benefit of the requested deposition to investigate a potential claim outweighs the procedure’s burden or expense. The Court of Appeals stated: “To allow a rule 202 deposition in th[is] situation would require the other party to reveal the confidential information in their possession,” which the court concluded was too heavy a burden on FIRST. Thus, FIRST failed to establish a date (prior to Garner’s stated discovery date in 2014) by which Garner knew or, with reasonable diligence, could have discovered the nature of its injury. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings.

The take-away from this case is that potential plaintiffs who, although suspicious, lack concrete proof that a potential defendant has misappropriated its trade secrets, will, on account of the Southwestern and Garner decisions, likely find it easier to assert the discovery rule to defer the accrual date of its misappropriation claim. Moreover, according to Garner, such potential plaintiffs will find it difficult, if not impossible, to meet their burden to establish the necessity of the information to be entitled to conduct a Rule 202 presuit deposition. It remains to be seen, however, if this case might decrease the use of Rule 202 depositions in trade-secret cases. Still, the boot-and-suspenders approach of attempting a Rule 202 deposition may be the better course to preserve the legal rights of a potential misappropriation plaintiff.

Garner Envtl. Services, Inc. v. First In Rescue, Safety & Training, LLC, 01-16-00388-CV, 2016 WL 7671377 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 22, 2016, no. pet. h.)

shutterstock_404754298Seyfarth attorneys Robert Milligan, Joshua Salinas, Amy Abeloff, and Michael Cross contributed to this year’s ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law, Trade Secrets and Interferences with Contracts Committee Annual Trade Secret Law Report.

The Annual Report, found here, covers the significant trade secrets cases from around the country that were decided in 2016. The Report is a good resource for staying current in trade secrets developments and trends.

 

webinarOn Thursday, February 2, at 12:00 p.m. Central, Seyfarth attorneys Robert Milligan, Michael Wexler, and Daniel Joshua Salinas will present 2016 National Year In Review: What You Need to Know About the Recent Cases/Developments in Trade Secrets, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law.

In Seyfarth’s first installment of its 2017 Trade Secrets Webinar series, Seyfarth attorneys will review noteworthy cases and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the areas of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud. Plus, they will provide their predictions for what to watch for in 2017.

The Seyfarth panel will address the following topics:

  • Significant new federal and state court decisions and legislation on non-compete and other restrictive covenants that may impact their enforcement, including concerns regarding adequate consideration for agreements;
  • The Obama Administration’s 2016 report on noncompetes and efforts by government agencies and employees to challenge and narrow the use of noncompetes;
  • The recently enacted Defend Trade Secrets Act, its early cases, and tips for navigating the new law and updating trade secret protection agreements to comply with the statute;
  • Practical implications of new legislation limiting the use of forum selection and choice of law provisions in employment contracts;
  • Recent developments regarding the ITC’s extraterritorial authority for trade secret disputes; and
  • Noteworthy data breaches and criminal prosecutions and criminal sentences for trade secret misappropriation, data theft, and computer fraud and discussion of lessons learned.

Please join us for this informative webinar.

register

aiplaSeyfarth attorneys Erik Weibust and Eric Barton will be presenting on trade secret and noncompete legislative updates at the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s 2017 Trade Secret Summit, being held on March 2-3, 2017 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  The theme of the Summit is “Emerging Standards During Tumultuous Times,” and it will include panels of leading practitioners and members of the judiciary and law enforcement on topics ranging from the Defend Trade Secrets Act to cybersecurity, to competitive intelligence, as well as roundtable discussions and networking opportunities.  CLE credits will be available. We will post the full program once it is complete, but in the meantime, more information and registration information is available here.

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

As tshutterstock_163690979he Obama administration winds down, its regulators are showing no signs of letting up.  Last week the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) decided that it should no longer be constrained by its subpoena power when it seeks to obtain highly confidential and propriety algorithms used by electronic trading firms.  In a 2-1 vote, the CFTC commissioners proposed a new rule under which a majority of the commissioners could vote to issue an order that requires CFTC-regulated companies to hand over the source code to their complex mathematical models that drive their trading decisions.  The power would allow the agency to force automatic trading companies to hand over what is seemingly their most valuable assets and closely held secrets upon the mere suspicion of wrongdoing and without the need to show any probable cause.  As noted in the Wall Street Journal, “[t]his is like asking Apple to turn over the source code for the iPhone.”

The majority vote was led by Chairman Timothy Massad and Commissioner Sharon Bowen, with Commissioner Christopher Giancarlo dissenting.  Massad reasoned that the current rules favor automatic trading firms over traditional trading companies, as the former are able to simply “hide behind their machines” to avoid agency surveillance.  Dissenting Commissioner Giancarlo criticized the majority for seeking to go above and beyond the subpoena process, thereby eliminating any due process protection that the companies may have under the Constitution.

The new rule would also require algorithmic trading firms to register with the CFTC if they trade on average 20,000 futures contracts a day over a six-month period.  This would broaden the agency’s coverage and potentially its ability to obtain highly coveted secrets that form the foundation for some firms.  And there is reason for concern.  Some may recall in 2001 when Senator Bernie Sanders released confidential CFTC data on oil trading positions, and it is not a far reach to think that a firm’s proprietary algorithms could similarly be used for political purposes.

While this proposed rule may only impact a small industry at the moment, that other agencies may now seek the same power is worrisome.   With Obama on his way out the door and Trump on the way in, it is yet to be seen whether this type of power grab will continue.  We will continue to monitor and report the development and public comment on this proposed rule.

shutterstock_131276240As we last reported, just a few weeks ago, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously approved a non-compete bill that revised the original draft bill and addressed some of the business community’s concerns (such as the mandatory garden leave provision, prohibition on judicial reform of overbroad agreements, etc.). However, the Senate yesterday introduced a version that would dramatically curtail the enforceability of non-competes in Massachusetts, making substantial changes to the House’s version (and in some cases, even going beyond the original bill prior to the House’s compromise edits). Most — if not all — of the revisions are sure to concern those companies that use non-competes as one tool to protect their intellectual property:

  • The time limits for non-competes (except in cases where an employee has breached a fiduciary duty or engaged in misappropriation) would be limited to a mere three months, as distinct from the House’s 12 month provision;
  • To be enforceable, an employer must inform the employee of its intention to enforce the non-compete within 10 days of the termination of the employment relationship;
  • All non-competes must be “reviewed” with the employee at least once every 5 years after execution, although it is unclear what this “review” must consist of;
  • The non-compete must be supported by a garden leave clause or other mutually agreed upon consideration — although unlike the House’s version, which required a garden leave provision whereby an employee would receive 50% of his or her annualized salary or other agreed upon consideration (without dictating what the consideration must be), the Senate’s version requires the garden leave and/or other consideration to be equal to or greater than 100% of the employee’s highest annualized earnings within the prior 2 year period (note that earnings can be substantially greater than salary);
  • In addition to the numerous categories of employees that cannot be bound by non-competes under the House’s approved bill, the Senate’s version also prohibits enforcement of non-competes against employees “whose average weekly earnings . . . are less than 2 times the average weekly wage in the commonwealth” (based on the latest figures published by the United States Department of Labor, that would mean that employees making less than approximately $118,000 could not be bound by non-competes);
  • The Senate’s bill would reinstate the provision in the original bill that a court could not judicially reform an overbroad non-compete — a major departure from the current state of the law in Massachusetts (and an about-face from the House’s compromise);
  • The bill would also prohibit a court from relying on the “inevitable disclosure” doctrine to supplement non-competes or render an otherwise unenforceable agreement enforceable;
  • The bill would prohibit any provision that would penalize an employee from defending against or challenging the enforceability of a non-compete agreement (in other words, attorneys’ fees provisions);
  • Finally, Senator Mark Montigny of the Senate’s Committee on Rules has recommended that the bill be declared an “emergency law” — which would mean that if passed, it would go into effect immediately, rather than on October 1.

As previously noted, the current legislative session ends on July 31, so legislators will need to move quickly if this version is to pass. While we noted in our last post that the atmosphere in the Commonwealth seemed favorable to passage of the House’s version, we anticipate that the local business community will strongly voice its opposition to this latest draft.

We will keep you updated as we approach the end of this year’s legislative session…

On Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. Central, in the final installment of our 2014 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Michael Baniak, Joseph Lanser and Randy Bruchmiller will focus on considerations involving protecting trade secrets and intellectual property in business transactions, including, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and other collaborative arrangements.

Summary of topics:

  • How to properly address developments by independent contractors hired to “invent” or develop
  • IP due diligence in mergers and acquisitions
  • Effectively integrating and binding key employees with access to confidential information in business transactions
  • IP rights in the lifecycle of a joint venture

There is no cost to attend this program, however, registration is required.

If you have any questions, please contact events@seyfarth.com.

CLE: CLE Credit for this webinar has been awarded in the following states: CA, IL and NY. CLE Credit is pending for the following states: GA, NJ, TX and VA. Please note that in order to receive full credit for attending this webinar, the registrant must be present for the entire session.