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Posts in Trade Secrets

The China Initiative: Combating Economic Espionage and Trade Secret Exfiltration

Open innovation is a key ingredient to the development of valuable intellectual property. Research institutions, universities, and private businesses work in close collaboration with one another, sharing confidential business information, processes, and trade secrets in order to create content. But while open innovation is a boon to creativity it is also a vulnerable entry point for bad actors to exploit the open and collaborative mindset of research-focused institutions (like universities) or the faith in contractual confidentiality obligations that many companies rely upon to conduct business. Several recent U.S. government findings have placed the blame for some of the most significant threats to domestic intellectual property at bad actors in the People’s Republic of China. A report by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer found that Chinese sponsorship of hacking into American businesses and commercial networks has been taking place for more than a decade and posed a significant threat to our nation’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.

Review of Key 2019 Trade Secret Decisions and Trends (Part II)

Part I of this series covered (1) Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, 139  S.Ct. 2356 (2020) in which the Supreme Court held that commercial or financial information that is customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy is “confidential” under exemption 4 to the Freedom of Information Act and is therefore shielded from disclosure; (2) trade secret cases dismissed on the statute of limitations; (3) improper acts for unclean hands doctrine must be related to the misappropriation claim; (4) the Department of Justice’s continued and increasing focus on theft of trade secrets involving a Chinese connection; and (5) award of “head start” damages. In Part II, we will look at some additional important 2019 trade secret decisions and trends.

Seven Steps to Address Trade Secret Misappropriation by Whistleblowers

The primary purpose of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) is to provide federal remedies to individuals and companies that have had their trade secrets misappropriated. That is not, however, its sole purpose. One of the DTSA’s more controversial provisions actually protects certain alleged misappropriators by precluding DTSA liability when an individual discloses trade secrets in the context of “whistleblowing” activity. Indeed, the DTSA’s immunity provision dictates that a whistleblower may not be held criminally or civilly liable for disclosing a trade secret, provided that the disclosure satisfies certain requirements. 18 U.S.C. § 1833. This immunity provision creates serious risk for companies: A whistleblower could expose a company to civil and criminal penalties stemming from the company’s alleged misconduct and simultaneously reveal valuable trade secrets, and the company would have no recourse. Fortunately, the immunity provision itself and the applicable case law, which is still in its infancy, can be used to develop a strategy for trade secret holders to avoid and/or mitigate this risk.

It’s About Control, Not Exclusion: Why Trade Secrets Are Treated Like Property, Part 1

Sometimes it seems that trade secrets are always fighting for respect. I recently ran into a friend who teaches at a European university. He somehow found a way to squeeze into the conversation a pronouncement: “You know, trade secrets are not property.” Stay with me; this gets interesting. I sighed, because I knew what was coming. I’d heard it many times before. “The essence of property,” he said, “is the ability to exclude others, and that doesn’t exist with trade secrets. Anyone is free to discover the same information, or to reverse engineer a product to learn how it is made.” I acknowledged that trade secret rights are not exclusive, and it’s easy to reverse engineer some things. “But what about secret formulas, like Coca-Cola’s, and secret algorithms, like Google’s? And companies often make products using processes that you can’t figure out by looking at what’s public.” He was ready with the ultimate squelch: “Sure, but all of that is not property, because you can’t exclude anyone; you might not even know when someone is using the same so-called secret. If you can’t order them off, it’s not property.”

Trade Secrets Review: Key 2019 Decisions and Trends (Part I)

In general, a trade secret is any information used in business if the owner has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret, and the information derives independent economic value, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by the public. Almost every state has adopted some form of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. In addition, with the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), trade secrets are also protected under civil and criminal federal law. See 18 U.S.C. § 1831, et seq. Due to the enactment of this Act and the weakening of patent protection in the United States, trade secrets are becoming an increasingly important means for companies to protect their intellectual property. This article provides a summary of important 2019 trade secret decisions and trends.

Trusting Your Secrets to the Government

According to Merriam-Webster, the “Word of the Year for 2019 is “they” when used in the singular, typically to avoid ascribing a gender to the person being referred to. The larger point is this: language matters. Since this is a space dedicated to secrecy, let’s consider how we use language to determine who gets access to our trade secrets. For today, we’ll be looking specifically at how government does this. After all, they write the laws and so should be practiced at defining exceptions to property rights. Why should the government care at all about business secrets? Examples will help us here. Locally, the fire department needs to know what hazardous chemicals you might be storing at your plant, in case they have to come and put out a fire there. For different but equally compelling reasons, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insists on knowing exactly how drugs are made, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires submission of pesticide ingredients. And then there is the government as consumer: last year the U.S. spent over $550 billion on purchasing goods and services from the private sector, and with all that economic clout comes the right to demand access to a lot of related data.

Eight Tips to Protect Your Trade Secrets with Effective Restrictive Covenant Agreements

Trade secret theft is often an inside job. Employees who know they’re about to leave for a competitor or start their own competing business will sometimes try and get an unfair head start by taking their employer’s confidential information—customer lists, strategic plans, etc.—as they head out the door. A necessary tool for preventing the misappropriation and use of a company’s valuable trade secrets is a well-crafted employee restrictive covenant agreement. Having employees under at least some form of such an agreement is important for two reasons. First, both state and federal trade secret statutes require employers to take reasonable steps to protect the secrecy of information sought to be protected under those statutes. Second, restrictive covenant agreements provide employers contractual remedies, over and above the statutory trade secret protections, that can be used to prevent theft and use of a company’s confidential information.

Netlist Wins ITC Exclusion Order: Will the USPTO Support It?

Several weeks ago, the International Trade Commission (ITC) announced that Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Charles Bullock issued a Notice of Initial Final Determination recommending that certain memory modules manufactured and imported by SK Hynix, Inc. and its subsidiaries should be excluded from importation into the United States. As is common with these announcements, the ITC first released a one-page indication of the decision, which was followed by the redacted full decision once the parties had an opportunity to request redaction of trade secrets and confidential information. The full decision has now been released, and the ITC is asking for comments relating to public interest issues from the parties, interested persons, and other government agencies and departments.

Other Barks & Bites, Friday, November 15: SCOTUS to Hear Booking.com Trademark Case, AG Barr Backs FCC Plan Against Huawei and ZTE, Copyright Office Eliminates Physical Material Submission Options

This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Federal Circuit strikes down a district court’s finding of design patent infringement on summary judgment; the USPTO advises trademark attorneys to monitor filings to prevent against the unauthorized use of their names; the U.S. Copyright Office issues final rules eliminating options for physical material submissions for newspaper and serial registrations; the U.S. Supreme Court will take up Booking.com’s appeal of the rejection of its trademark application by the USPTO; AG Barr supports the FCC’s plan to restrict Huawei and ZTE equipment purchases through the Universal Service Fund; Nirvana’s copyright case against Marc Jacobs moves past a motion to dismiss; Biogen loses $3 billion in market value after PTAB hearing; and Amazon seeks an injunction against a patent owner asserting infringement claims against Amazon Fire product retailers.

Adding a Cybersecurity Plan to the Business Plan: Cybersecurity and IP Considerations for Startups

Imagine the following scenario: You have an idea for a new mobile application. As adoption of the app picks up, so does your business, and you hire more employees to provide sales and support assistance. You are on your way to transforming your startup into a successful business. Needing additional capital to scale the business more quickly, you identify a strategic partner interested in investing in your business. Before you can close on the funding, several employees report that they did not receive their paychecks through the direct deposit system. The investigation reveals that several months ago, your organization received a series of spear phishing emails. You learn that multiple employees opened the email and its attachment giving the cybercriminals access to your systems. Not only are you out the payroll money, but you also learn that in addition to your employees’ banking information, the criminals had access to your customer contact information and the source code for your app. A cyberattack is an unwelcome event for any company, but the effects can be especially detrimental to a startup, with 60% or more of small businesses that experience a data breach going out of business within a year of the breach. It is impossible for any size business to guarantee a system that is fully secure. However, not all companies have millions of dollars to invest in cybersecurity and by allocating even limited funds to assessing your data privacy risks, implementing a protection plan and creating an incident response plan, a startup can significantly improve its chances of surviving a cyberattack.

Other Barks & Bites, Friday, November 8: SCOTUS Hears Allen v. Cooper Copyright Case, U.S. Government Sues Gilead, Amici Submit Briefs to CAFC in Chrimar

This week in Other Barks & Bites: the Trump Administration sues Gilead for infringement over HIVE PrEP treatment patents; Senators Inhofe and Wicker ask President Trump to show no leniency on Chinese IP theft; the Supreme Court hears the Allen v. Cooper copyright appeal; the Federal Circuit issues precedential opinions on PTAB evidence admissibility and limitation in patent claim preamble; the Copyright Office says that its digital recordation pilot project is on track for Spring 2020; the PTAB Precedential Opinion Panel (POP) will review the Board’s rejection of substitute patent claims in a motion to amend; “This Is Spinal Tap” creators settle copyright suit; and T-Mobile announces December launch for nationwide 5G network.

Understanding Insurance Coverage for Intellectual Property Claims

Recent multi million-dollar jury verdicts on trade secret misappropriation claims reflect that there can be significant risk to companies when employees leave or joint development relationships dissolve. Coupled with the passage of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, which created a federal civil cause of action for such claims, these verdicts have heightened the need to refine intellectual property protection strategies. But even with greater attention paid to improving protection measures, litigation can be inevitable, and such cases, as demonstrated by a recent survey conducted by the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), can be expensive. Companies should consider whether insurance coverage is available to cover litigation costs. In this article we examine a sampling of cases where coverage questions were raised in connection with intellectual property disputes and the differing outcomes which ensued.

PTAB Issues First Motion to Amend Guidance, Samsung Petitions for IPR Granted Despite NuCurrent Issue Preclusion Defense

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) recently issued its first-ever preliminary guidance on motions to amend claims filed by patent owner Sanofi and, although the substituted claims haven’t escaped an obviousness challenge from Mylan, patent owners might be able to use that guidance as a roadmap for their own motions to amend claims. In other PTAB decisions between October 1 and 16, USAA escaped covered business method (CBM) reviews based on the technological invention exclusion, NHK Spring factors led the PTAB to deny two inter partes reviews (IPRs) petitioned against TRUSTID patents, oral hearings were held in Apple’s IPRs against Qualcomm, despite the patent settlement agreement between the two firms, and NuCurrent failed to avoid Samsung IPRs after arguing issue preclusion based on district court litigation of a forum selection clause in a contract between the two companies.

Other Barks & Bites, Friday, October 18: USPTO Updates Subject Matter Eligibility Guidelines, China Receives Half of 2018 Global Patent Filings, US Inventor to Host Rally

This week in Other Barks & Bites: US Inventor will host an inventor rally during AIPLA’s Annual Meeting to protest the PTAB; the Federal Circuit vacates dismissal of infringement case against Sirius XM; the USPTO updates subject matter patent eligibility guidelines, changes TEAS access, and seeks participants for a beta release of the Patent Center; WIPO reports that China received half of all patent application filings in 2018 while the United States saw its first patent filing decline in a decade; Google files a supplemental brief at the Supreme Court in its case against Oracle; Katy Perry files a motion to overturn the “Dark Horse” copyright verdict against her; the FCC approves the merger between mobile wireless firms T-Mobile and Sprint; and U.S. Customs proposes rulemaking to improve its detention of copyright-violating goods imported at the U.S. border.

Top Secret: How to Successfully Build a Trade Secrets Case

When an employee who has left a company to work for a competitor shares a coveted trade secret, his or her former employer can experience devastating effects, including lost business and reputational damage. As a result, the former employer may want to file a lawsuit; and to stop the former employee and the competitor from using the proprietary information while the suit is pending, the employer can also seek preliminary injunctive relief. Preliminary injunctive relief requires an evidentiary showing that the former employer is suffering irreparable harm. That is, harm that cannot be remedied with money damages. The former employer must also show a likelihood that the employer will prevail on its claim against the former employee. As such, the former employer must develop preliminary evidence that the information taken is a secret that is not readily ascertainable from public sources, that the employer took reasonable precautions to protect the information from disclosure, that the former employee took the information without authority and is using the information or has disclosed the information to others. If successful, the former employee, and those acting in concert with the former employee, will be enjoined from using the former employer’s information while the litigation proceeds. As such, seeking and obtaining preliminary injunctive relief can, and is often, an important milestone in a trade secret case.