What happens when you mix animal affection with a political issue? A Constitutional Convention? Tax dollars for pet shelters? Would you believe…trade secret litigation?
People love their pets. There are doggie day spas, specialty cat foods, and pet therapists.
Legalization of marijuana is a highly controversial political issue. Twenty-three states have already passed some form of marijuana decriminalization law. Colorado and Washington have essentially made cannabis as legal as alcohol for people over twenty-one. At least fourteen additional states are considering laws that reduce or eliminate criminal penalties related to marijuana. Although still illegal under federal law, the main argument for state legalization is, typically, additional tax revenue. Additional taxes usually means…additional profits for entrepreneurs, and people suing each other to see who gets those additional profits.
Thus, a lawsuit seeking an injunction and damages for “willful and malicious misappropriation of trade secrets” has been filed in Washington State (King County). The underlying subject matter of the case: cannabis-based health products for pets.
The plaintiffs, veterinarians Sarah Brandon and Greg Copas, claim they performed fifteen years of research and development on their trade secret cannabis-based formulas. These formulas were allegedly used to treat defendant Dan Goldfarb’s pet in 2013. Washington legalized marijuana in December of 2012. Perhaps there was experimental use of the products going on prior to the laws being enacted? You do the math.
Goldfarb was apparently so pleased with his pet’s recovery that he and the plaintiffs met regarding a possible business venture involving the development of pet health products using – what else – marijuana. The three formed Canna-Pet to manufacture and sell cannabis- and hemp-based pills, powder, and “canna-biscuit” products.
To keep people from stealing their pets’ stash or getting their pets in trouble with the law, because, let’s face it, Fido has enough anxiety already, the defendant’s website assures potential customers that “your pet will not get ‘high’ or in trouble with the law” from their products. Since this stuff won’t get Polly stoned, apparently your parrot cannot be arrested. And if your pet isn’t receiving any of the typical benefits of this particular drug, what effect does the medication have, exactly?
As with many other agreements of this sort, the drug deal went bad. Goldfarb kept the Canna-Pet brand, while the plaintiffs formed Canna Companion to sell competing products using their proprietary formulas.
Goldfarb licensed the Canna-Pet technology to Cannabis Therapy Corp. in August 2014. The licensing agreement allegedly allows Cannabis Therapy to produce and sell cannabis-based pet products based on the plaintiffs’ trade secrets.
It seems inevitable that the human affection for animals and the politics of pot would combine to produce pet products containing marijuana. It also seems logical that each different type of plant can be best cultivated using different, perhaps secret, techniques. Secret formulas and processes cover other goods and materials, why not the proprietary reefer concoction in Spot’s evening treat?
What are these mysterious secrets that provide amazing health benefits to our animal friends? Would it be proper to ask a judge to recuse themselves if they had never inhaled? Who would be considered a qualified (or unqualified) juror in this action? Will pets have to testify to the restorative powers of these products? Will there be a smoke-filled jury room determining the culpability of the defendants? Or is this just a case of smoke and mirrors? Would it be fitting if the verdict was read at 4:20?
Trade secrets, even those involving controversial goods and services, are part of almost every business. It can be as little as a dog biscuit or as big as a jetliner. Regardless of the underlying subject matter, trade secrets often provide a competitive edge for any company.
In this particular trade secret case, the stakes may be extremely “high.”