Cases don’t try very often. Doubly so in trade secret/non-compete litigation. So many of these disputes get resolved at the injunctive relief phase of the proceeding that, when one goes the distance, it is almost always worth peeking under the hood.

In MWK Recruiting, Inc. v. Jowers, No. 1:18-cv-444-RP (W.D. Tex.), a federal district court judge recently entered a judgment for $3.6 million—before fees and costs—against a former external law firm recruiter. The facts are not complex. A recruiter left his employer and joined a competitor. But before the recruiter left his former employer, he began using his personal email for candidate submissions and allegedly laundered six lateral candidates through the founder of his new employer. His former employer sued him and alleged that he misappropriated trade secrets and breached non-compete and non-solicitation covenants in his employment agreement. At trial, the district judge found in the plaintiff/employer’s favor on both claims and entered a $3.6 million damages award, with about $500,000 awarded under the misappropriation claim and $3 million under the breach of contract claim.

Continue Reading Lessons from a Staffing Misappropriation and Non-Compete Trial

trade secrets litigationIn June 2022, a federal judge sitting in the Southern District of New York issued an order denying defendants Lionbridge Technologies, Inc. (“Lionbridge”) and its parent company HIG Middle Market, LLC (“HIG”) attorneys’ fees and costs related to their assertion that plaintiff Transperfect Global, LLC (“Transperfect”) brought a misappropriation of trade secrets claim under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) in bad faith. The 2019 lawsuit was filed roughly 15 months after completion of a bidding war for the sale of Transperfect in a Delaware court-supervised auction. One of the participants in the auction was HIG, which had acquired Lionbridge—a competitor of Transperfect—in February 2017. In its suit, Transperfect alleged that HIG engaged in “fake bidding” during the auction so that it could access trade secrets in the form of confidential pricing data and customer lists and improperly share them with Lionbridge to poach two of Transperfect’s biggest clients.
Continue Reading No Fees for Failure to Show “Bad Faith” in Prosecution of Trade Secrets Claim

A federal court in Texas recently provided useful insights on what constitutes “solicitation” by a former employee under that employee’s restrictive covenant with his former employer, and the court provided further insights on what inferences courts will, and will not, draw in favor of a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction based on alleged misappropriation of trade secrets.[1]

The defendant worked for the plaintiff, Sunbelt, for over twenty years, primarily as a salesperson covering institutional customers.[2] As part of his employment, the defendant signed an employment agreement that, among other things, prohibited him from “solicit[ing]” Sunbelt’s customers or competing with Sunbelt within a certain geographic area.[3] He later left to join one of Sunbelt’s competitors. Sunbelt filed suit and sought a preliminary injunction, asserting that the employed had, among other things, solicited Sunbelt’s former customers, worked for Sunbelt’s competitor within the area prohibited by the non-competition agreement, and misappropriated Sunbelt’s trade secrets.[4]
Continue Reading Federal Court Provides Insight on Meaning of “Solicitation” and Plaintiff’s Burden on Motion for Preliminary Injunction

After a four day bench trial on August 10, 2021, a Houston federal judge ruled that the conceptual designs an oil and gas manufacturing company disclosed to its erstwhile collaborator under an NDA were not eligible for trade secret protection because they were neither secret nor misappropriated due predominantly to disclosure in a prior public patent. The ruling underscores the necessity that trade secrets are—in fact—kept actually secret. Moreover, any prior patent of the party seeking to protect its trade secrets should be scrutinized for similarity with the technology or information allegedly comprising a trade secret.
Continue Reading Texas Oil & Gas Manufacturing Company’s DTSA/TUTSA Lawsuit Unraveled by Public Disclosure of Alleged Trade Secret in its Own Expired Patent

A federal district court recently issued summary judgment in favor of a retail defendant in a trade secret misappropriation case involving the alleged misappropriation of a CBD cream formula. On September 3, 2020, Healthcare Resources Management Group, LLC (“HRMG”) filed suit in the Southern District of Florida against several parties, including hemp products retailer Medterra CBD, LLC (“Medterra”), alleging that Medterra misappropriated its proprietary trade secret formula for a CBD cooling cream by selling a product similar to HRMG’s cream. On May 14, 2021, Medterra filed an amended motion for summary judgment against HRMG, arguing that HRMG’s claims for trade secret misappropriation could not stand, as the partial list of HRMG’s ingredients disclosed to it did not constitute a protectable trade secret formula, nor did Medterra “use” or “disclose” any secret formula owned or controlled by HRMG. The court agreed with Medterra, granting its summary judgment motion in full on October 27, 2021. This case serves as an important reminder that trade secret misappropriation claims require proof that a trade secret was either wrongfully acquired, used, or disclosed by the alleged wrongdoer—mere similarity of products is insufficient to succeed on a claim absent these additional elements.
Continue Reading Federal Court Issues Summary Judgment in Favor of Retail Defendant in Alleged Trade Secret Misappropriation of a CBD Cream Formula

The California Court of Appeal recently upheld the dismissal of claims against Mattel, which alleged that Mattel stole the idea for its flying Barbie doll from Technology from Heaven Unlimited (“TFHU”). Applying New York law, the Court found that Mattel did not misappropriate TFHU’s idea to create a flying Barbie using drone technology, as this idea did not have general novelty, even if the idea was novel to the buyer. Moving forward, companies should ensure that they have clear policies and procedures in place before accepting ideas and before entering into contracts for the disclosure of ideas, because whether an idea may be novel may depend on the timing of the contract.
Continue Reading Hoverboard Barbie: A Novelty Toy Without a Novel Concept

Seyfarth Synopsis: In a case of first impression, the Ninth Circuit held that the continued use doctrine is available under the DTSA, and the court permitted a plaintiff to raise a DTSA claim for misappropriation of trade secrets even though the initial misappropriation allegedly occurred before the DTSA was passed. The Ninth Circuit also held that a patent application may preclude a DTSA claim when the plaintiff does not claim that any trade secret information was misappropriated beyond what was included in the patent application.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Recognizes Continued Use Doctrine under the DTSA, but Confirms that Patent Publication Precludes Claim

Consistent with many jurisdictions which have adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Delaware’s version expressly preempts common law claims based on the misappropriation of trade secrets. See 6 Del. C. § 2007. In a recent opinion, Vice Chancellor Slights of the Court of Chancery dismissed a claim for unjust enrichment based on defendant’s alleged misappropriation and use of plaintiff’s confidential and proprietary data because Delaware’s trade secret statute “occupies the filed” and preempts claims for common law unjust enrichment.
Continue Reading Spam Trap Evading Plaintiff Falls into Statutory Preemption Trap under Delaware Trade Secret Act

Social distancing, a term which few of us had heard of before this year (despite the fact that it has been used since at least the early 2000s), is stretching into its third month. Notwithstanding some loosening of shelter-in-place advisories, and the fact that some employers are starting to open up offices and invite their workforce back in, a majority of employees are still working from home. This has broad implications for protection of employers’ trade secrets and confidential information—in many cases, a company’s most precious asset.
Continue Reading Security From Afar: How Best to Protect Trade Secrets in a World of Remote Working, Zoombombing, and Uncertainty

The Sedona Conference’s working group on trade secrets has created a draft Commentary on the Proper Identification of Asserted Trade Secrets in Misappropriation Cases.

The draft Commentary explains:

The burden is on the party asserting trade secret misappropriation to answer this question by “identifying” the alleged trade secrets. While this requirement for “identification” is ubiquitous, the rules for doing
Continue Reading The Sedona Conference Seeks Public Comment on the Identification of Asserted Trade Secrets in Misappropriation Cases