In September 2019, the Ninth Circuit held that hiQ Labs, Inc.’s (“hiQ”) collection and use of information that LinkedIn users shared on their public profiles did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) because the data was publicly available and therefore did not fall within the scope of the CFAA. Following the Ninth Circuit’s order, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Van Buren v. United States, wherein the Supreme Court held, in a 6-3 ruling, that a former Georgia police officer did not “exceed authorized access” within the meaning of the CFAA by accessing a state law enforcement computer database containing license plate information to determine whether an individual was an undercover officer. The Supreme Court concluded that an individual “exceeds authorized access” when he accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of that computer—such as files, folders, or databases—that are off-limits to him.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Reaffirms that Data Scraping from Public Websites Does Not Violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Company Alleges Waffles Featured on Oprah’s Annual “Favorite Things” List Were Made From Stolen Recipe

A Massachusetts waffle manufacturer, The Burgundian, recently filed a lawsuit alleging that a potential co-venturer, Eastern Standard Provisions, submitted its Liege waffles for inclusion on Oprah Winfrey’s annual “Favorite Things” list without giving credit to Burgundian. Then, after Burgundian refused to sell its secret waffle recipe, Eastern Standard employed a “bait and switch” by selling Liege waffles from a different company while touting Oprah’s endorsement of the Liege waffles made by Burgundian and enjoying the spoils of landing a spot on the coveted list.
Continue Reading One of Our “Favorite Things” Are Lawsuits About Stolen Secret Recipes

In-house attorneys often wear multiple hats when performing work for private companies. Some of their work clearly falls under the provision of legal services, while others can be less clear quasi-business roles. And when those in-house lawyers who perform non-legal work are asked to sign a non-compete agreement in connection with their employment, questions can arise both as to the enforceability of those agreements and whether an attorney violates the rules of professional conduct by signing such an agreement as we have previously discussed.
Continue Reading Another Decision Addressing Non-Competes for In-House Counsel

As we previously covered, a group of 18 state attorneys general in July filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), asking the FTC to incorporate labor concerns when reviewing corporate mergers and to use its enforcement powers under the Sherman Act to stop the use of non-compete, non-solicit, and no-poach agreements in many situations. Many of those same attorneys general recently sent another letter to the FTC, this time urging it to use its rulemaking authority “to bring an end to the abusive use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts.”

In the most recent letter, the attorneys general endorsed the arguments presented in a March 20, 2019, petition submitted to the FTC by various labor unions, public interest groups, and legal advocates, requesting that the FTC initiate rulemaking to classify abusive worker non-compete clauses as an unfair method of competition and per se illegal under the FTC Act for low wage workers or where the clause is not explicitly negotiated. As they did in their previous letter, the attorneys general contend that non-competes “deprive workers of the right to pursue their ambitions and can lock them into hostile or unsafe working environments.” The attorneys general also argue that the arguments in support of non-compete clauses are unpersuasive and that employers can use other “less draconian” ways to recoup their investment in job training, methods of business, and other intangibles. The attorneys general further argued that non-competes burden businesses seeking to hire new employees, which in turn inhibits innovation and drives up consumer costs by suppressing competition.
Continue Reading State Attorneys General Keep Pressure on FTC to Regulate Non-Competes

Courts have long lamented that “computing damages in a trade secret case is not cut and dry,” Am. Sales Corp. v. Adventure Travel, Inc., 862 F. Supp. 1476, 1479 (E.D. Va. 1994), meaning that “every [trade secret] case requires a flexible and imaginative approach to the problem of damages,” Univ. Computing Co. v. Lykes-Youngstown Corp., 504 F.2d 518, 538 (5th Cir. 1974).

The federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) and virtually every state’s version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) (only New York has not adopted the UTSA) permits recovery of damages for (1) actual loss caused by the misappropriation; (2) unjust enrichment that is not addressed in computing damages for actual loss; or (3) a reasonable royalty for the misappropriator’s unauthorized disclosure or use of the trade secret. There has been little guidance from the courts, however, as to how to calculate these different, and sometimes competing damages calculations, many relying on the “flexible and imaginative approach” set forth in the Fifth Circuit’s 1974 pre-UTSA University Computing decision. Even more difficult is the case where a plaintiff’s damages are based on the defendant’s anticipated future use of the trade secret, given that those damages necessarily will involve speculation about the revenues the defendant will generate from its use of the trade secret.
Continue Reading Can a Party Recover Damages for the Anticipated Future Use of Trade Secrets?

In an a recently published opinion, the Ninth Circuit answered the question whether “LinkedIn, the professional networking website, [may] prevent a competitor, hiQ, from collecting and using information that LinkedIn users have shared on their public profiles, available for viewing by anyone with a web browser?” In affirming the trial court’s injunction enjoining LinkedIn from blocking hiQ’s access to its users’ public profiles, the Ninth Circuit held, among other things, that hiQ’s scraping did not amount to accessing LinkedIn’s users’ data “without authorization,” in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), because the data hiQ was accessing was publicly available and therefore did not fall within the scope of the CFAA.
Continue Reading 9th Circuit Takes Narrow View of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in LinkedIn Data Scraping Case

A group of 18 state attorneys general (the “AGs”) recently filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in advance of a series of hearings centered on changes to antitrust and consumer protection enforcement in the 21st century. The letter identifies four major areas where recent antitrust activity involving labor issues have occurred: (1) horizontal no-poach agreements between employers; (2) vertical no-poach agreements, particularly franchise agreements; (3) non-compete agreements between employers and employees; and (4) mergers impacting labor markets. Although it may reveal the enforcement priorities of its signatories, the letter’s arguments are mostly unsupported by any case law and in some respects are contrary to the Department of Justice’s positions on the matters.
Continue Reading State Attorneys General Urge FTC to Consider Labor Issues in Antitrust Enforcement

Caramel Crisp LLC, the owner of Garrett Popcorn Shops (“Garrett”), the renowned Chicago-based purveyor of deliciously flavored popcorn, recently filed suit in federal court in Chicago against its former director of research and development, Aisha Putnam, alleging that she misappropriated the company’s trade secrets, including its recipes for Garret’s famous popcorn, after she was fired. Putnam was hired in 2014 and was eventually promoted to the role of Director of Research and Development, where she had access to some of Garrett’s most confidential information and trade secrets. In that role, she was required to sign a confidentiality and non-compete agreement, which, among other things, required her to return all of Garrett’s confidential information upon the termination of her employment.
Continue Reading Get Out Your Popcorn: Former Director of R&D Accused of Stealing Secret Popcorn Recipes

A small, Chicago-based magnetic picture frame developer’s claims for trade secret misappropriation against a photo album manufacturer will be headed to trial after an Illinois federal district court largely denied the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. Puroon, Inc.’s (“Puroon”) founder and CEO, Hyunju Song, developed the “Memory Book,” “an all-in-one convertible photo frame, album, and scrapbook” that included magnetic openings and an “interchangeable outside view.” In 2013, Puroon launched a website displaying the Memory Book and Song attended various trade shows where attendees were able to interact with the product. Song also sent samples of the Memory Book to representatives of certain retailers without requiring them to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Continue Reading Are Mom-and-Pop Companies Treated Differently When it Comes to Abandoning Trade Secrets? A Federal Court in Illinois Says Yes.

Massachusetts Federal Court Enjoins Seafood Supplier Executive from Working for Competitor After Downloading Trade Secrets

A Massachusetts Federal Court recently enjoined the former Director of Research and Development and Quality Assurance of National Fish & Seafood, Inc. (“National Fish”) from working for a competing seafood supplier based in Florida after it determined that she had downloaded thousands of documents from National Fish’s computer systems during her final days with the company.  Kathleen Scanlon had worked for the Gloucester, Massachusetts-based seafood supplier for twenty-three years when she was approached by the CEO of Tampa Bay Fisheries, Inc. (“Tampa Bay Fisheries”) to see if she was interested in taking a position as director of food safety for the company.
Continue Reading There’s Something Fishy Going on Here: MA Federal Court Enjoins Seafood Supplier Executive