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. Continue Reading Pardon Me, Co-Packaging Partner Accused of Stealing Dijon Mustard 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

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. Continue Reading CBD Company Files Motion to Dismiss in Trade Secret Dispute

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

Continue Reading Top 10 Developments and Headlines in Trade Secret, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law for 2019 & 2020

Several high profile ransomware attacks have recently rocked the franchise world fomenting uncertainty and anxiety about franchisors’ legal obligations and liability. Ransomware attacks essentially kidnap a company by shutting down its systems and holdings its data hostage until a ransom fee is paid. In addition to the quantifiable hard costs of paying ransom and hiring experts to mitigate damage and re/build cyber defenses, ransomware victims can be damaged by: (a) third-party liability to the customers and other original owners of compromised data; (b) interruption of business operations during the course of and recovery from an attack; and (c) injury to reputation value in the loss of consumer confidence, appearance of incompetence, and customer attrition. In today’s digital golden era, data is among the world’s most valuable assets, earning the tagline: “data is the new oil.” It therefore comes as no surprise that cybersecurity, which has been a hot topic for years, is garnering increased attention and resources from businesses of all sizes and stages. Yet with each new development in defensive cybersecurity, cybercriminals come up with just as many ways to get around those defenses. Continue Reading Franchisors: Are You Covering Your Digital Assets?

The American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) will host its annual Trade Secret Law Summit at The Orrick Building in San Francisco’s Financial District on March 16-17, 2020.

Seyfarth partner Scott Humphrey will be speaking on a panel entitled “Use of Litigation Funding in Trade Secret Cases” with representatives of two major litigation funders. Other Seyfarth attendees will include Erik Weibust (Vice Chair of AIPLA’s Trade Secret Law Committee), Marcus Mintz, and Dawn Mertineit. The Trade Secret Law Summit is one of the preeminent trade secret conferences in the country, and Seyfarth has been sending speakers, moderators, and participants to it for many years.

We hope you can join us there. For more information and to register, please click here.

Practicing Law Institute’s “Noncompetes and Restrictive Covenants 2020″ has been posted on-demand and is currently available for viewing until January 2021. Among many other panelists and speakers, Seyfarth partner Erik Weibust spoke on a panel entitled “Advanced Issues in Noncompete Matters.”  CLE credit is available.

On January 23, 2020, the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas retracted its previous ruling in the trade secrets dispute Goldberg, et al. v. EMR (USA Holdings) Inc., et al. and issued a new opinion upon rehearing. In doing so, the Court reversed course on its previous ruling that communications with customers and suppliers involved a matter of public concern and were an exercise of free speech.

The Court’s new ruling, which was decided under the pre-September 1, 2019, version of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), makes clear that communications between a company and customers or suppliers that deal only with the sale of a commodity are not protected by the TCPA.[1]

The August 2019 Ruling Continue Reading The Dallas Court of Appeals Further Expands Goldberg and Holds that Communications Between a Competitor and Customers and Suppliers Do Not Involve Matters of Public Concern

For the first time in 15 years, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), Massachusetts’ highest court, issued a decision analyzing the enforceability of non-solicitation covenants, the distinction between such covenants in the context of the sale of a business versus employment, and equitable tolling of restrictive covenants. As set forth below, this decision serves as an important reminder to businesses who impose restrictive covenants governed by Massachusetts law.

Factual Background

While the factual background of the case is long and twisty, only a few key details are necessary to rehash here. The defendant Matthew McGovern (“McGovern”) entered into a restrictive covenants agreement with his former co-shareholders of the Prime Motor Group (“Prime”), in exchange for plaintiffs’ agreement to buy out McGovern’s minority share in Prime with no discount. The agreement, which was made a year after McGovern had been terminated as an employee and as part of a resolution of the parties’ dispute concerning McGovern’s alleged violation of an earlier restrictive covenants agreement, prohibited McGovern from hiring, soliciting, or encouraging Prime employees to leave Prime for 18 months. The agreement contained no tolling provision, but provided that plaintiffs would be entitled to injunctive relief if McGovern breached, without needing to prove irreparable harm.   Continue Reading Massachusetts’ High Court Pumps the Brakes on Equitable Tolling of Restrictive Covenant

Within the last five months, the two executive arms responsible for enforcing antitrust laws—the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”)—held public workshops to examine the effect of non-compete clauses in employment contracts on the labor market. The DOJ held its workshop on September 23, 2019, while the FTC recently held its own at the top of the year, on January 9, 2020. The purpose of the FTC workshop was “to examine whether there is a sufficient legal basis and empirical economic support to promulgate a Commission Rule that would restrict the use of non-compete clauses in employer-employee employment contracts.”

Why the FTC now wants to regulate in the employment space is not readily apparent apart from attempting to capitalize on a low-hanging fruit populist issue concerning the overreporting of some companies allegedly using non-competes with low-wage workers. Continue Reading A Solution in Search of a Problem? FTC Hosts Workshop to Consider Authority to Abolish Non-Competes