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Posts in Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets and Employee Mobility in the U.S. and Asia

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.

Battling Trade Secret Theft in Taiwan

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.

CAFC OKs Transfer to Court of Claims on Trade Secret Claim

United States Marine, Inc. (USM) sued the United States government in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) and 28 USC §2674. USM alleged that the United States misappropriated USM’s trade secrets. Specifically, USM claimed that the United States Navy, which had lawfully obtained USM’s proprietary technical drawings under a contract (to which USM was not a party), owed USM a duty of secrecy that it breached by disclosing those drawings to a rival private firm for use in designing military boats for the government.

Machine Gun Maker Sues Alphonse Capone Over Trademarks

Capone, an Illinois corporation, did not have authorization to use the Tommy Gun trademarks on alcoholic beverages that carry a reproduction of the Tommy Gun marks. Additionally, Saeilo claims that Capone’s infringement not only violates federal trademark law, but also Illinois state law and common law.

White House Shares Plan to Mitigate Trade Secret Theft

Not long after it was reported that a Chinese military unit might be responsible for a number of cyber attacks that have taken place on US infrastructure and businesses, the Obama Administration unveiled its strategy to put an end to the theft of US trade secrets by foreign governments and foreign competitors.

House to Move on AIA Corrections and Trade Secrets

During the last six days of a session the Speaker of the House of Representatives is allowed to suspend Rules in order to expeditiously dispose of non-controversial matters quickly before the end of a session. This year there will be several intellectual property bills that will move under suspension of House Rules on Tuesday afternoon, December 18, 2012. One is a substitute version of HR 6621, the America Invents Act (AIA) technical corrections bill. Another is a bill to undo a recent decision of the Second Circuit relative to trade secrets and the Economic Espionage Act.

South Korean Company Indicted for Theft of Trade Secrets

Yesterday, Kolon Industries Inc. and several of its executives and employees were indicted for allegedly engaging in a multi-year campaign to steal trade secrets related to DuPont’s Kevlar para-aramid fiber and Teijin Limited’s Twaron para-aramid fiber. The conspiracy and theft of trade secrets counts each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss for individual defendants and a fine of $5 million or twice the gross gain or loss for the corporate defendant. The obstruction of justice count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss for individual defendants and a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or loss for the corporate defendant.

Identifying and Protecting Trade Secrets

Protecting trade secrets is critically important if for no other reason than making sure that the time, money and energy you spend building your business is not wasted. If your employees could simply leave without having any contractual obligations that would prevent them from taking information, stealing employees away and/or soliciting your existing customers then they would be able to set up a business and compete with you for a fraction of what it cost you to do the same. After all, you were the one who spent the time and money for marketing to attract customers in the first place, and you were the one who spent the time and money necessary to train your employees. Without the cost of acquiring new customers and the costs associated with training employees that new business set up by your former employee would compete with you and have only a fraction of the start-up and overhead costs you faced. That can make it difficult for any business to keep the doors open.

Vault with Coca-Cola Trade Secret Formula on Public Display

Can you imagine the security employed in transferring the trade secret from the SunTrust Bank vault to the vault at the World of Coca-Cola? The Coca-Cola formula has been notorious with rampant rumors, creating its own urban mythology with respect to both the formula and efforts to protect the secret formula. All you have to do is Google “coke formula urban myth” and you will find all kinds of claims. Thus, it seems almost a virtual certainty that a new mythology will now be created and grow. It has always seemed to me that Coca-Cola is very comfortable with the urban myths, relishing them and even using them by some accounts to feed into the power of the trade secret, not to mention using them to misdirect the public into thinking, rightly or wrongly, that Fort Knox like security has always been employed to protect the formula.

The Software IP Detective: Infringement Detection in a Nutshell

When copying has occurred, much of the code may have changed by the time it’s examined due to the normal development process or to disguise the copying. For example identifiers may have been renamed, code reordered, instructions replaced with similar instructions, and so forth. However, perhaps one comment remains the same and it’s an unusual comment. Or a small sequence of critical instructions is identical. Correlation is designed to produce a relatively high value based on that comment or that sequence, to direct the detective toward that similarity. If correlation were simply a percentage of copied lines, the number could be small and thus missed entirely among the noise of normal similarities that occur in all programs.

Best Mode Patent-Raptor Claims Another Victim in Wellman

What is startling about Wellman is how the patentee put the ‘863 and ‘317 patents squarely in the path of the “best mode” Patent-Raptor by deliberately keeping the Ti818 recipe a trade secret. As I’ve instructed numerous clients, you have a clear choice on “best mode” issue: (1) disclose the “best mode” and file the patent; or (2) don’t file the patent if you want to keep the “best mode” as a trade secret. There is simply no “in between” on this issue. The only question now is whether the Tyrannosaurus Rex of patent law (inequitable conduct) will devour what is left of the Wellman patents.

The Business of Social Media: Protecting Trade Secrets & Trademarks in a Socially Networked World

The demographics on users of social media can be surprising – a large percentage are over 35, and have six-figure incomes. These users have a lot of buying power and are often making the purchasing decisions for their households. Once they know this, clients can grasp the importance of both using social media proactively. But what is the risk? In the trade secret arena you could lose everything through inappropriate use by you or your employees, and the same is true in the trademark context as well.

Trade Secrets: A Valuable and Often Overlooked Asset

Trade secrets are a very important part of any intellectual property portfolio. It is not at all an overstatement to say that virtually every business has trade secrets worth protection, regardless of whether the business is run as a sole proprietorship, a small business or Fortune 500 company. This is true because any business information that is valuable as a result of being kept secret qualifies for treatment as a trade secret. Nevertheless, it may be better to say that every business has assets that could and should be protected as trade secrets, but the truth is that many companies, even large companies, fail to do so properly.

Outsourcing to India: National Security Subversion & Job Loss

The fact that the outsourcing of patent searches and the preparation of patent applications violates U.S. law only makes perfect sense, particularly when you factor into consideration the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 181 (re: national security) and 35 U.S.C. 184 (re: foreign filing licenses). By openly and willingly tolerating the outsourcing of preparation work of patent applications the clear intention of 35 U.S.C. 181 is subverted. What good does a secrecy order make if the the information relative to the invention has already been sent overseas?

Patents in the Real World

But looking back, what strikes me is the surprisingly-variable role that patents played in the growth and success of the half-dozen trailblazing startup companies that I helped lead. For these startups, which collectively created more than 2,500 jobs, I raised approximately $1 billion from strategic and venture investors (who ended up with $3 billion in returns). And in the majority of cases, owning patents proved to be crucial to the funding and commercial success of my startup. But this wasn’t always the case. In several startups, patents were almost completely irrelevant to either the financing or the ultimate fate of the company. Understanding why this was so may offer some insights into both the value and the limitations of patenting.