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Employers often spend considerable resources recruiting, hiring and training key talent, only to face potential disaster when those trusted employees quit to join a competitor, often taking sensitive files on their way out the door. Even if they don’t act in bad faith, departing employees carry critical, confidential information inside their heads, which can’t be deleted. Fortunately, various remedies may be available for the former employer, from confidentiality and non-competition agreements, to lawsuits for actual or threatened misappropriation of trade secrets and the doctrine of inevitable disclosure. But there’s a conflict. Employers have a legitimate interest in preventing misappropriation of trade secrets, while employees have a legitimate interest in utilizing knowledge and skills gained through work experience and working for employers of their choosing.
Last week, police detained three employees of Taiwanese smartphone-maker HTC, raided their homes and offices and seized their computers and cellphones to search for evidence, as HTC is accusing them of stealing sensitive technology to sell to HTC’s competitors. The three men – a vice president of product design, director of R&D, and senior designer – are accused of stealing secrets relating to HTC’s Sense 6.0 smartphones, which are scheduled for launch later this year. The accused purportedly formed design companies in Taiwan and China and began speaking with Chinese phone-makers about selling them the stolen secrets. They are also accused of defrauding HTC out of more than US$300,000, by use of forged documents, apparently to raise capital for their new venture.
As in the U.S., when drafting claims in China, one must describe the invention sufficiently to enable a person skilled in the art to make and use the claimed invention. For software patents, a flow chart and explanation should be included, along with drawings and description of associated hardware. Portions of the source code may be included for reference. Software claims may be drafted as either method or apparatus claims. However, Justin Shi, patent attorney at Sony Mobile Communications in Beijing, warns that apparatus claims may be deemed invalid if they are phrased only in means-plus-function language and fail to describe the apparatus or its embodiments.
Articles, such as this one, tout arbitration as an alternative: faster, cheaper and more confidential than litigation, with other benefits as well. However, in actual practice, relatively few patent disputes are submitted to arbitration. Worldwide, only a few hundred requests to arbitrate patent disputes are filed each year. By comparison, in 2012 more than 5,000 patent lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Courts, not to mention courts of other nations. So what’s the problem? If arbitration is so great, why are so few patent disputes resolved in arbitration? More important, are patent litigants missing something? Should they rely on arbitration more often?