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Posts in Trade Secrets

Iancu and Kappos: TRIPS IP Waiver Proposal Will Kill More People Than It Saves

A webinar hosted on Tuesday, January 12, by The Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project featured former U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Directors Andrei Iancu and David Kappos, as well as Duke University Professor of Law and former USPTO Administrator of the Office of External Affairs Arti Rai, discussing the proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive IP rights under the Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for certain COVID-19 technologies. While all three panelists agreed that the IP waiver discussion has become a distraction that will not solve the fundamental problems, Iancu and Kappos were especially passionate that the precedent set by the U.S. government’s decision to back the proposal could do very real harm, rather than good.

Machine Learning Models and the Legal Need for Editability: Surveying the Pitfalls (Part II)

In Part I of this series, we discussed the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) case against Everalbum as just one example where companies may be required to remove data from their machine learning models (or shut down if unable to do so). Following are some additional pitfalls to note. A. Evolving privacy and data usage restrictions Legislators at the international, federal,…

What You Need to Know About Trade Secrets in 2021

Last year at this time we thought we had been through the worst of it and, with the new vaccines arriving, that life would return to normal in 2021. Hahaha, how naïve we were! But take heart; some things hold steady through the storm, such as the popular sport of trade secret litigation. Unlike most patent and copyright cases, every dispute is guaranteed to unfold as a morality play—a story of good guys and bad guys. Let’s now look back on the year when remote work dug in to become a permanent fixture, and remind ourselves of the broad sweep of trade secret law by looking at some of the more instructive and interesting opinions issued by the courts – and one inexplicable decision by our government.

When the Secret Enables the Brand: The Long-Lasting Listerine License

Question: how do you make money from a secret formula for a product that smells and tastes horrible and that no one wants? Answer: you make everyone believe they have a medical problem that only this stuff can solve. Back in 1879, Joseph Lawrence, a St. Louis doctor, was experimenting with surgical disinfectants. This was a new thing. In the 1860s, a British surgeon named Joseph Lister was the first to perform surgery antiseptically, using carbolic acid as a disinfectant. Inspired by Lister, Lawrence came up with a compound of alcohol and essential oils that seemed to kill whatever bugs it touched. To honor Lister (and presumably to take advantage of his fame), Lawrence named the concoction “Listerine.”

FDA Resists FOIA Request for Vaccine Approval Info as Biden Administration Offers to Share it with the World

From the “one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing” category, believe it or not, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is effectively refusing to release documents it possesses relating to the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. More precisely, Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency (PHMPT), a group of doctors and scientists, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents relating to the approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. After the FDA denied a request by the PHMPT to expedite release of the documents, a lawsuit was filed. In response to that lawsuit, the FDA proposed to release 500 pages per month, which would allow the agency time to redact material as necessary. Given that there are 329,000 pages responsive to the PHMPT request, at the proposed FDA rate of 500 pages per month it would take 55 years for the FDA to fully release the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine documents.

Acquisition Contamination: The Mythology of the ‘Clean Team’

Have you ever shopped for something dangerous? Back in the 1950s, my mother wanted to buy a pressure cooker to make dinner faster (and use cheaper cuts of meat). That wasn’t an easy decision, because the early models had a reputation for occasionally exploding (there was no Consumer Product Safety Commission then). My father, a self-taught steam engineer, was skeptical that a kitchen appliance could safely contain double the normal atmospheric pressure. But Mom did her homework, researching what the problems were (usually a single pressure valve prone to clogging) and finding cookers with redundant pressure relief systems. It worked for years, and no one went to the hospital. Companies shopping to buy other companies, or to acquire a license to their technology, also entertain risk. That’s because in the process of interviewing potential targets they can become exposed to highly valuable trade secrets. If any particular transaction doesn’t go forward, but the shopper implements similar technology, the disappointed seller may file a lawsuit claiming misappropriation.

Noncompete Agreements: Finding the Balance Between Reasonable Restraints and Free Range Talent

You may remember 2014 as the year when we all discovered a plague of noncompete agreements threatening our economy. No? Let me help you. In June that year, the New York Times published an expose of sorts relating the story of a 19-year-old summer camp counselor who couldn’t get hired by a certain camp because the year before she signed a contract with another camp that blocked her from working for any nearby competitor. Noncompete contracts, the article suggested, had previously been reserved for high level corporate executives, and suddenly (and “increasingly”) they were being foisted on rank and file employees engaged in event planning, investment management, and even yoga instruction. A follow-on piece in the Times confirmed the emerging crisis by revealing that the Jimmy John’s fast food chain had forced noncompete clauses on all its sandwich makers (acknowledging, however, that there was no evidence that the company had ever tried to enforce the contracts).

The Houston Astros Stole Bases and Signs—But Did They Also Steal Trade Secrets?

The category of “trade secrets” is broad and encompasses information that people may not ordinarily associate with the term. Easy, iconic examples of trade secrets include the secret recipe for Coke or the secret formula for creating the nooks and crannies in Thomas’ English Muffins. Others, such as the algorithms that determine what appears in our social media feeds, or how much an office supply store charges a particular client for a box of paper clips, may not be so apparent. In reality, a “trade secret” is any secret, commercially valuable piece of information to which its owner restricts access and takes reasonable steps to protect. But even if you knew how wide-ranging the category is, you may not have considered “catcher’s signs” a trade secret. That is exactly what a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher is contending in a recent lawsuit filed in Texas state court. This case is generating much debate in the legal and baseball communities. Time will tell whether this suit is a dribbler that does not get past the pitcher or a line drive into the gap for extra bases, so let’s step up to the plate and take a good look at this recent case.

CAFC Dismisses LG’s Interlocutory Appeal as Untimely

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), with Judge Hughes writing for the court, dismissed defendant-appellant LG Electronics Inc. and LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc.’s (collectively, ‘LG’) request for interlocutory review due to lack of jurisdiction; the court said LG had failed to file within 30 days of the date at which the liability issues became final, resulting in an untimely appeal. In 2014, Mondis Technology, Ltd. (“Limited”) sued defendants for patent infringement over U.S. Patent No. 7,475,180(“the ‘180 patent”), which claims a “display unit configured to receive video signals from an external video source.” The district court granted Limited leave to join other plaintiffs, namely, Hitachi Maxell, LTD., NKA Maxell Holdings, LTD., Maxell, LTD., (collectively ‘Hitachi’) to address LG’s pretrial standing challenge. A jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey found LG infringed claims 14 and 15 of the ‘180 patent, the claims weren’t invalid, and the infringement was willful. The jury then awarded plaintiffs $45 million in damages. 

Carefully Connecting the Dots: Consider All the Evidence Before Launching a Trade Secret Misappropriation Attack

The job of the trial lawyer starts with figuring out what happened and collecting evidence to use in telling a compelling story to a judge or jury. Direct evidence takes you immediately to the fact you’re trying to prove and is most commonly seen in eyewitness testimony. Betty saw John shoot the gun at Phil, who collapsed on the floor. That’s direct evidence that John murdered Phil. But if Betty had been outside the bar, heard an argument and then a gunshot before entering and seeing John holding a smoking gun, that’s indirect, or circumstantial, evidence of the murder…. In the realm of trade secret disputes, there are special challenges in trying to sort out the truth because one side knows the facts and the other doesn’t.

Federal Circuit Nixes Appeal on Claims of Unfair Treatment by California Court in Pro Se Lawsuit Over Restrictions to Cancer Research

On July 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) issued a non-precedential decision in Siegler v. Sorrento Therapeutics, Inc. in which the appellate court affirmed a series of rulings on motions in a copyright and trade secret lawsuit filed in the Southern District of California. Although the Federal Circuit panel in the case “[understood] that Siegler feels unfairly treated as a result of the events she outlines, she was treated more than fairly by the district court,” said the CAFC, and the court did not err or abuse its discretion in reaching decisions to deny several motions for default judgment and reconsideration, as well as dismissing a pair of amended complaints filed by Siegler.

ITC and Trade Secret Cases Against Apple Over Pulse Oximetry Tech Highlight Need for Better Ways to Rein in Big Tech

In late June, medical technology firm Masimo Corporation and its consumer device subsidiary Cercacor Laboratories filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) asking the agency to institute a Section 337 investigation into several versions of the Apple Watch. Masimo’s allegations, which also include trade secret litigation ongoing in U.S. district court, follow an increasingly familiar narrative in which a Big Tech player, in this case Apple, engages in licensing negotiations with a small tech developer, only to poach employees and ideas from the smaller firm without paying the original developers.

A Third Option: Limited IP Waiver Could Solve Our Pandemic Vaccine Problems

In the early days of the vaccination efforts, Americans were anxiously online trying to register for a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. Reports of success at 1:30 am and 2:30 am made the rounds as new appointments dropped onto websites. Also common were stories of vaccine elitism and discussions of which vaccine is “the best.”  News reports continue to show a steady uptick in the percentage of vaccinated Americans. Elsewhere in the world though, the story is very different, and a darker picture is emerging. In Africa, many countries have vaccinated less than 2% of their population. While vaccine distribution is difficult in many regions of the developing world, this is a hurdle that medical assistance groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, are accustomed to handling. The challenges are known. What is most difficult in combating COVID-19 is obtaining the vaccines in the first place. Some argue that IP rights are the key problem and should be waived, while others claim they are the only solution and that waiver would be catastrophic. This article suggests a third option, somewhere between voluntary vaccine donation and a full waiver of IP rights, that may offer a way forward.

International Academics Push for TRIPS COVID IP Waiver Hold-Outs to Drop Opposition

One-hundred-twenty-four professors and academics from around the world have penned an open letter supporting India and South Africa’s proposed waiver of certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), which they claim will help to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a press release about the letter, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the EU continue to oppose the waiver proposal. The United States expressed its support for waiver in May. Over the last several weeks, Europe has doubled down on its opposition to the proposal in ongoing talks.

How Organizations Must Protect Themselves from Ransomware Attacks

When one thinks of cybercrime, it can be easy to imagine a mysterious figure in a dimly lit room sending out various phishing emails to unsuspecting victims. However, this is not always the most dangerous tactic used by hackers, according to the United Kingdom (UK) Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ’s) cybersecurity arm. On June 14, the UK National Cyber Security Centre claimed that ransomware represented the biggest threat to online security for most people and businesses, with the number of incidents soaring worldwide in the last two years. And it is a problem and a threat that we must all be wary of.