As a special feature of our blog—guest postings by experts, clients, and other professionals—please enjoy this blog entry from Hon. Elizabeth D. Laporte (Ret.)

Trade secret litigation in California is growing, in both volume and impact. The second-largest plaintiffs’ verdict in 2019 was $845 million, as reported by the Daily Journal, which was awarded to ASML, a Dutch semiconductor chip processing software company, in its case against XTAL, a company founded by two ex-employees of the plaintiff’s subsidiary in Santa Clara who allegedly worked in secret for XTAL using stolen trade secrets to get a head start in development and siphon off a major customer contract (ASML US Inc. v. XTAL Inc.). Another large verdict was a $66 million jury award, including a worldwide injunction, given to a San Jose LED manufacturer that sued a company for allegedly poaching its top scientist so that it could transfer its technology to China (Lumileds LLC v. Elec-Tech International Co. Ltd.). In these types of cases, plaintiffs have the advantage of being able to craft a compelling narrative of theft—most commonly, former employees surreptitiously appropriating the plaintiff company’s trade secrets for their own benefit in a rival venture—and to overcome employees’ general freedom to switch employers under California law, which voids almost all non-compete agreements (Bus. & Prof. Code Sec. 16600) and does not recognize the doctrine of inevitable disclosure (Schlage Lock Company v. Whyte, 101 Cal.App.4th 1443 (2002)). Moreover, trade secrets do not expire automatically; they allow broad protection without disclosure, unlike copyrights and patents.
Continue Reading Trade Secret Litigation on the Rise in California: How ADR Can Help

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

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 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

On January 11, 2019, the Supreme Court accepted certiorari to reconcile fractured circuit tests on when the government may withhold information from a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request based on responsive information being confidential or a trade secret. The case has major potential ramifications for the protections given to sensitive information submitted by companies to the government.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Grants Cert. to Interpret Meaning of “Confidential” or “Trade Secret” Under FOIA

It is well known that courts interpreting their respective states’ versions of the Uniform Trade Secret Act (“UTSA”) have not uniformly applied UTSA’s preemption provision. While some states hold that their acts only preempt claims involving information that constitutes a “trade secret,” others hold that their acts also preempt claims based on information that may not technically meet the “trade secret” definition. See, e.g., Spitz v. Proven Winners N. Am., LLC, 759 F.3d 724, 733 (7th Cir. 2014) (concluding that Illinois’s UTSA preempts claims “that are essentially claims of trade secret misappropriation, even when the alleged ‘trade secret’ does not fall within the Act’s definition”); Am. Biomedical Grp., Inc. v. Techtrol, Inc., 374 P.3d 820, 827 (Okla. 2016) (holding that Oklahoma’s UTSA preempts “conflicting tort claims only for misappropriation of a trade secret” and “does not displace tort claims for information not meeting this definition” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).
Continue Reading 5th Circuit Provides Guidance on the Scope of Louisiana Uniform Trade Secrets Act’s Preemption Provision

Late last night, after close to a decade of “will they or won’t they” nail biters, the Massachusetts legislature finally passed a non-compete bill, just minutes before the end of the 2018 legislative session. (For a recap of the many twists and turns over the years, here is just a smattering of blog posts on the topic).

The new bill, which will become effective on October 1, 2018, if signed by Governor Baker, codifies certain aspects of existing common law, but makes some significant changes to non-compete jurisprudence in the Bay State that employers will need to be mindful of.
Continue Reading At Long Last, Non-Compete Legislation: Massachusetts Finally Passes Non-Compete Bill After Nearly a Decade

Robert Milligan, along with Certified Forensic Computer Examiner Jim Vaughn, presented The Defend Trade Secrets Act – The Biglaw Partner and Forensic Technologist Perspective webinar for Metropolitan Corporate Counsel on Thursday, November 2. They focused on the key features of the DTSA and compared its key provisions to the state Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA)

shutterstock_526002034This blog originally appeared in ALM Intellectual Property Strategist.

One year after its enactment, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) continues to be one of the most significant and closely followed developments in trade secret law. The statute provides for a federal civil cause of action for trade secret theft, protections for whistleblowers, and new remedies (e.g., ex parte seizure of property), that were not previously available under state trade secret laws. The less than 70 reported DTSA cases to date provide an early glimpse into how courts may interpret the statute going forward and what early concerns about the statute may have been exaggerated.

Overstated Ex Parte Seizure Concerns

The ex parte seizure provision of the DTSA was one of the most controversial provisions of the statute during its drafting. The provision allows a trade secret holder to request, without notice to the alleged wrongdoer, that a district judge order federal law enforcement officials to seize property to prevent the propagation or dissemination of trade secrets. Opponents of the DTSA argued that the ex parte seizure provision would open the door to abuse by purported “trade secret litigation trolls” and increase litigation costs. The cases to date involving the seizure provision suggest that those early concerns may not materialize.
Continue Reading Emerging Issues In the Defend Trade Secrets Act’s Second Year

shutterstock_394537450A lawyer’s favorite phrase might be “it depends.” And when an employer asks whether its customer lists qualify as a trade secret, “it depends” is often the answer. But even if it’s difficult to definitively state whether customer lists qualify as a trade secret, the converse—whether customer lists might not constitute a trade secret—can be helpful to assessing how much protection a court will provide.

With the advent of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”), no state categorically denies trade-secrets status to customer lists. That’s because the default definition of a “trade secret” under the UTSA includes compilations of information, and several states modified the default definition to explicitly include customer lists as potential trade secrets. See, e.g., Conn Gen. Stat. § 35-51(d); O.C.G.A. § 10-1-761(4); Or. Rev. Stat. § 646.461(4); 12 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5302. Other states opted to mention that a “listing of names, addresses, or telephone numbers” may qualify as a trade secret if the listing, like any trade secret, has independent economic value because it is not readily ascertainable and is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.  See, e.g., Co. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 7-74-102(4); Oh. Rev. Code Ann. § 1333.61(D).

States still, however, apply varying degrees of scrutiny before conceding that customer lists constitute a trade secret. In more skeptical jurisdictions, courts decline to confer trade-secrets status on customer lists for one of three reasons.
Continue Reading Are My Customer Lists a Trade Secret?