Robert Milligan, Seyfarth Partner and Co-Chair of the Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Competes Practice Group, is a speaker for the “Closing Plenary – Mid-Year Updates and Ethics of Inventorship of AI Patenting” session at the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) Mid-Winter Institute on February 4 at 9 a.m. Pacific, in Rancho Mirage, California.
From court closures and the way judges conduct appearances and trials to the expected wave of lawsuits across a multitude of areas and industries, the COVID-19 outbreak is having a notable impact in the litigation space—and is expected to for quite some time.
To help navigate the litigation landscape, we are kicking off a webinar series that will take a…
Continue Reading Post-Pandemic Litigation Webinar Series
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
It is axiomatic that in order for information to be considered a trade secret, it must have been kept secret. But what if the trade secret is disclosed without the owner’s consent? Such was the issue in Intellisoft, Ltd. v. Wistron Corp. et al., No. H044281, slip op. (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 16, 2019), a recent unpublished decision from the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District. …
Continue Reading California Appellate Court Rules Publication of Trade Secrets, Even Without Owner Consent, Eviscerates Protection
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?
On August 23, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its long-awaited opinion in Klocke v. Watson, 17-11320, 2019 WL 3977545, at *1 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2019), holding that the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”) does not apply to diversity cases in federal court. This decision settles a split manifested across dozens of cases at the district courts.
By ruling that the TCPA does not apply to diversity cases in federal court, the Fifth Circuit foreclosed an otherwise potent weapon used by defendants throughout Texas in trade secrets litigation. Because of the TCPA’s extremely broad application, defendants in trade secrets cases, for example, often asserted that claims alleging the misappropriation of trade secrets and related causes of action were based on and related to the defendant’s freedom to speak freely on all topics, including the trade secrets at issue, and its freedom to associate with competitors, and therefore such claims should be dismissed under the TCPA. Such arguments are now foreclosed by this ruling, at least in federal court.
Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Holds the TCPA Does Not Apply to Federal Court Diversity Cases
On July 11, 2019, Governor Sununu signed S.B. 197 into law. S.B. 197 prohibits an employer from requiring an employee who makes 200% of the federal minimum wage ($14.50) to sign a non-compete agreement restricting the employee from working for another employer for a specified period of time or within a specific geographic area. Any “noncompete agreement entered into between…
Continue Reading New Hampshire Governor Bans Non-Compete Agreements for Low-Wage Employees
On May 14, 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law HB 2992, which, as of January 1, 2020, requires an employer to provide a terminated employee with a signed, written copy of his or her non-competition agreement within 30 days of his or her termination date. Failure to do so will render the agreement voidable and unenforceable in the state of Oregon.
Backdrop for HB 2992
Under current Oregon law (ORS 653.295), a non-competition agreement is not enforceable unless the following four requirements are met: (1) the employer informs the employee of the non-competition agreement in a written employment offer received at least two weeks before the employee’s first day, or the agreement is entered into upon promotion; (2) the employee is engaged in administrative, executive, or professional level work; (3) the employer has a protectable interest in requiring the non-competition agreement; and (4) the employee’s gross annual salary and commissions at the time of termination exceeds the median family income for a four-person family. Furthermore, the term of a non-competition agreement may not exceed 18 months from the date of the employee’s termination. Any time remaining on a non-competition agreement beyond 18 months is voidable and precluded from enforcement by any Oregon court.
Continue Reading Oregon Adds Employee-Friendly Requirement to Existing Non-Compete Law… But Also Produces Company-Friendly Trade Secrets Law in Recent Court of Appeals Case
In Seyfarth’s third installment in its 2019 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Katherine Perrelli, Justin K. Beyer, and Amy Abeloff focused on the key provisions of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, how the DTSA has evolved since it was passed three years ago, and what to expect in the future.
As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled…
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