According to a March 26, 2020, News Release issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”), initial unemployment claims in the United States soared to a seasonally adjusted 3.3 million the week ending March 21, 2020, the greatest single week increase in recorded history, primarily because of layoffs resulting from COVID-19. Indeed, the DOL reports that:

During the week ending March 21, the increase in initial claims are due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts. States continued to cite services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services. Additional industries heavily cited for the increases included the health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries.

Some researchers estimate that as many 1 in 5 US employees are subject to non-compete agreements. This means that, in all likelihood, hundreds of thousands of employees who are subject to non-compete agreements were terminated in the last week or so alone.
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The Ninth Circuit has certified questions to the California Supreme Court in Ixchel Pharma v. Biogen seeking guidance as to: 1) whether section 16600 of the California Business and Professions Code extends to contracts between businesses; and 2) whether pleading an independent wrongful act is necessary to state a claim for intentional interference with a contract outside the at-will employment contract context. The California Supreme Court has agreed to accept the Ninth Circuit’s inquiry and the appellate briefing was recently completed. We expect the Supreme Court to have oral argument and likely rule in the summer or fall of 2020. The California Supreme Court’s disposition of the novel issues could have sweeping ramifications that ripple through commercial and business industries.
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As we previously reported, on February 18, 2020, Medterra CBD (“Medterra”) filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that it had misappropriated Healthcare Resources Management Group LLC’s (“Healthcare Resources”) proprietary formula for a CBD cream aimed at treating pain. In its motion, Medterra argued that Healthcare Resources failed to allege that it had provided or that Medterra had otherwise acquired any proprietary information. Additionally, Medterra claims that even if Healthcare Resources could establish that it had provided its propriety CBD cream formula to Medterra, Healthcare Resources did not take adequate steps to protect its trade secret by mandating Medterra sign a non-disclosure agreement.
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On March 3, 2020, Massachusetts Premier Soccer LLC, doing business as Global Premier Soccer (“GPS”), filed a complaint in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that two of its former management-level employees engaged in a scheme to divert business away from GPS to a competitor, Surf Club. GPS asserts claims for false advertising and promotion under the Lanham Act, tortious interference with contractual relations and prospective economic advantage, breach of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, civil conspiracy, unfair and deceptive practices under Massachusetts and South Carolina law, and common law unfair competition.
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In 2012, Peloton rode into the home fitness scene with its now ubiquitous at-home exercise bike, which features a tablet that allows riders to stream both live and pre-recorded classes while competing against other riders on a virtual leaderboard. Peloton built the bike, including the associated technology and software, from scratch, and applied for and obtained a number of patents between 2015 and 2019 to protect its sizable investment of both time and money.

In 2017, Flywheel, a boutique exercise studio, pedaled into the home fitness scene as well with the FLY Anywhere bike. Like Peloton users, FLY Anywhere riders stream both live and pre-recorded classes while pedaling their way up the leaderboard.
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In Seyfarth’s first installment in its 2020 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Robert Milligan, Jesse Coleman, and Joshua Salinas reviewed the noteworthy legislation, cases, and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the area of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud—plus, predictions

On February 25, 2020, Plaintiff Mustard Girl LLC (“Mustard Girl”), an award-winning mustard manufacturer, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County for damages against its former co-packing partner, Olds Products Co. of Illinois, LLC (“Olds”), for misappropriation of trade secrets and other derivative claims. According to Mustard Girl, Olds engaged in a multi-year scheme to steal Mustard Girl’s recipes and then use those recipes to sell its own mustard products at lower cost to Mustard Girl’s largest accounts.

This mustard dispute presents a common trade secrets misappropriation scenario—the alleged misappropriator had lawful access to the trade secrets but then misused its access for an improper purpose. An additional wrinkle in this case is that Mustard Girl provided the mustard recipes to Olds under a confidentiality agreement, but admittedly lacks a counter-signed copy. Proving that reasonable measures were taken to keep trade secrets protected is necessary to prevail on a claim for misappropriation. If Mustard Girl is unable to prove that the recipes were provided to Olds under a confidentiality agreement, it may face a significant hurdle in proving that its recipes are, in fact, trade secrets.
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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.
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On February 18, 2020, Medterra CBD filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that it had misappropriated Healthcare Resources Management Group LLC’s (“Healthcare Resource”) proprietary formula for a CBD cream aimed at treating pain. In its motion, Medterra argued that Healthcare Resource failed to allege that it had provided or that Medterra had otherwise acquired any proprietary information. Additionally, Medterra claims that even if Healthcare Resource could establish that it had provided its propriety CBD cream formula to Medterra, Healthcare Resource did not take adequate steps to protect its trade secret by mandating Medterra sign a non-disclosure agreement.
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Continuing our annual tradition, we have compiled our top developments and headlines for 2019 & 2020 in trade secret, non-compete, and computer fraud law. Here’s what you need to know to keep abreast of the ever-changing law in this area.

1. Another Year, Another Attempt in Congress to Ban Non-Competes Nationwide

Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced legislation in 2019 entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). The WMA seeks to ban non-compete agreements outside of the sale of a business or dissolution of a partnership.

Not only would the WMA abolish covenants not to compete nationwide, outside of the extremely narrow exceptions highlighted above, but it would also provide the Department of Labor (DOL) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with broad enforcement power. If enacted, the legislation would empower the FTC and DOL to enforce the ban through fines on employers who either fail to notify employees that non-compete agreements are illegal or who require employees to sign covenants not to compete. Additionally, the WMA establishes a private right of action for all employees allegedly aggrieved by a violation of the WMA.

The WMA contains a carve out for parties to enter into an agreement to protect trade secrets. As currently drafted, the WMA does not abrogate the scope of protections provided by the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Presently, there are no generally applicable federal restrictions on non-compete agreements, and enacting such a law would have to pass Constitutional muster. We expect to see continued activity at the federal legislative level to attempt to ban or limit the use of non-competes.

2. New State Legislation Regarding Restrictive Covenants


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