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Posts Tagged: "Economic Espionage Act"

Trade Secret Litigation Reports: Four Years After the Enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act

On May 11, 2016, President Obama signed into the law the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) which extended the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), which provides a broad basis for civil federal jurisdiction for the theft of trade secret thefts. Thus, trade secret owners can sue in federal court so long as there is a connection between the trade secret and interstate or foreign commerce. However, the DTSA does not preempt states laws and parties can still bring an action under a state’s version of the Uniform Trade Secret Law. Two recent reports highlight a number of significant findings that are relevant to companies looking to protect and defend their trade secrets: In April 2020, finance consulting firm Stout Risius Ross, LLC published its 2020 “Trends in Trade Secret Litigation Report (the SR) and Lex Machina released its 2020 Trade Secret Litigation Report (LMR), in which it summarized data from the past decade and compared it against data from the previous year’s report.

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.

Separating Fact from Fiction in United States v. Levandowski

In August, the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Northern District of California charged a pioneer of self-driving car technology, Anthony Levandowski, with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google under 18 U.S.C. § 1832 of the Economic Espionage Act (EEA). According to the indictment, Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 files containing critical information about Google’s autonomous-vehicle research before leaving the company in 2016. The indictment alleged that Levandowski then made an unauthorized transfer of the files to his personal laptop. Some of the files that Levandowski allegedly took from Google included private schematics for proprietary circuit boards and designs for light sensor technology, known as Lidar, which are used in self-driving cars. Levandowski joined Uber in 2016 after leaving Google when Uber bought his new self-driving trucking start-up, “Otto.” Levandowski has repeatedly asserted that he never disclosed the download, nor made use of the information while he was at Uber.

Huawei/CNEX and the Role of Trade Secrets in the U.S.-China Trade War

In late May, news reports surfaced regarding allegations of trade secret theft committed by Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies that had been made in an Eastern District of Texas case. The claims targeted an executive working for Huawei who is accused of participating in a scheme to misappropriate trade secrets from California-based semiconductor startup CNEX Labs. The recent filings mark a new turn in the case, which was originally filed in 2017 by Huawei when it accused CNEX of committing trade secret theft and poaching employees in an effort led by a former Huawei employee and CNEX co-founder. CNEX Labs might be a startup, but it has been attracting venture capital funding for its cloud software and solid-state drive controller products from major names in the tech industry, including Dell and Microsoft. While Huawei has made its own allegations against CNEX, news reports indicate that Huawei’s attempt to access a closely guarded research project by working through a Chinese university professor isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, such activities may be a major factor behind the company’s rapid rise in recent years.

The Blades Just Keep Spinning

Sinovel encouraged him to leave AMSC, promising to pay him a million dollars over five years (along with an apartment, and, reportedly, a prostitute). His advance was only 15,000 euros, but it did the trick. Karabasevic resigned, but his supervisor asked him to stay on for a while, with full access to the company’s systems. This allowed him time to create a bootleg version of the AMSC controller software, and to transfer it to his future employer in China. This was the software that evaded the AMSC technicians’ diagnostic tools and allowed the windmills to keep turning when they should have turned off. It would be some months before the company learned about their former employee’s treachery, but in the meantime it had lost almost 90% of its revenue, shed a billion dollars in shareholder equity, and had to lay off 700 employees.

Choosing Between Patents and Trade Secrets, A Discussion Worth Revisiting

Patenting and secrecy are the two major methods of protecting technology that supports competitive advantage. Trade secrets protect a wide range of confidential information, ranging from customer lists to strategic plans and business methods.  While this has been true for decades, the legal landscape in which businesses must choose between them has changed dramatically in recent years, mainly as a result of two forces. The first of these was a series of court rulings that collectively have narrowed the scope of patentable subject matter and have made patents more difficult to enforce. The second was the America Invents Act of 2011 (the “AIA”), which effectively eliminated or reduced certain risks of choosing secrecy, while providing new ways to challenge patents in administrative proceedings.  Considered together, these forces require innovators to reconsider their cost/benefit models for evaluating protection mechanisms. This paper discusses risk factors counsel should weigh when advising clients on these issues. I do not advocate one method over the other, but instead suggest that decisions should be guided by clients’ business needs and priorities rather than by patent eligibility alone.

Making a Federal Case out of Trade Secrets

“The most important change was that DTSA allowed someone claiming their trade secret was being used improperly to go into a federal court,” explained Jacoby. “In most situations, the employer and the employee in a trade secret dispute are likely to be in the same state. Usually, two citizens of the same state can’t bring a lawsuit into a federal court unless an independent basis for federal jurisdiction over the case exists. So, if my client wants to sue the business next door to his yoga school for blasting out heavy metal during his meditation classes, I literally can’t make a federal case out of it.” However, DTSA changed that rule for trade secret protection — that claim now can be brought into a federal court even if the parties are both from the same state. Up until DTSA, that only happened if you had some other jurisdictional basis to be in federal court, such as the parties were from different states and met the jurisdictional amount for a diversity claim, or perhaps if you sued under another federal statute relating to IP.

The Extraterritorial Reach of U.S. Trade Secret Law

The current extraterritorial reach of U.S. trade secret law may seem ironic given trade secret law’s “local” roots. In the United States, common law trade secret principles emerged through a diverse patchwork of state court decisions addressing local commercial disputes. These local common law principles were first distilled in the Restatement of Torts and the Restatement of Unfair Competition and then codified in the Uniform Trade Secrets Act in 1979. Underscoring the local prerogative of trade secret law, state legislatures modified and tailored the Uniform Trade Secrets Act to reflect their state-specific concerns and needs. For many years, despite a push for national uniformity, a number of states chose not to adopt a statutory scheme at all (some still haven’t).

Available Remedies under the DTSA

The DTSA amends the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (“EEA”) to provide for civil remedies in federal courts for the misappropriation of trade secrets. The new Section 1836(b) provides for both equitable and monetary relief. Subsection 1836(b)(3) authorizes a federal court to grant an injunction to prevent actual or threatened misappropriation of trade secrets. The language is identical to § 2 of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”). However, there are a number of limitations as to when a court may issue an injunction under the DTSA. First, the injunction may not “(I) prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship, and that conditions placed on such employment shall be based on evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows ….” Section 1836(b)(3)(A)(i)(I).

Handle with Care: Civil Seizure Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act

The DTSA’s provision for civil seizures provides victims of trade secret theft with a powerful remedy to prevent further dissemination of the trade secret and limit further harm. However, Congress balanced this powerful tool with severe consequences for those movants who misuse it. When seeking to use this remedy, victims of trade secret theft must be careful to comply with all the detailed requirements or they may be far worse off than before. It is a powerful weapon, but like most powerful weapons, it must be handled with great care lest it cause serious self-inflicted injury.

Misappropriation of a Trade Secret Under the DTSA

The DTSA amends the definition of misappropriation from what was found in the EEA to bring the definition more in line with that of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) that has been adopted by almost all U.S. states. Indeed, apart of explicitly recognizing certain potential defenses that are discussed in the commentary of the UTSA, the DTSA is identical to the UTSA. According to the House Report, “The Committee intentionally used this established definition to make clear that this Act is not intended to alter the balance of current trade secret law or alter specific court decisions.” House of Representatives, Report No. 114-529, April 26, 2016, at 14. Federal courts therefore, will look to state decisions involving the state’s version of the UTSA for guidance.

Definition of a ‘Trade Secret’ Under the DTSA

In general, the form of the information qualifying as a trade secret under the DTSA is extremely broad, and includes information of any form, regardless of “how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing,” and of any type, “financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information,” so long as: (1) the information is actually secret, because it is neither known to, nor readily ascertainable by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information; (2) the owner has taken “reasonable measures” to maintain the secrecy; and (3) independent economic value is derived from that secrecy.[i] By comparison the UTSA identifies, by way of example, eight specific types of trade secret information; “formula, pattern compilation, program device, method, technique or process.” The DTSA, unlike the UTSA, also provides that information “stored” only in an individual’s memory can be the subject of a civil claim for theft of trade secrets.

A Legislative History of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016

Legislative history is, of course, the compilation of the legislative process’ source documents—committee reports, hearing transcripts, bills and floor debate—to understand the Congressional intent behind a law. Such a use is controversial, with no less than the late Justice Antonin Scalia being a leading critic of the practice while Justice Stephen Breyer is one of its most notable proponents. However, lawyers and judges continue to employ legislative history, in some fashion, and will likely turn to it to understand and interpret a law of this magnitude. This article surveys the more significant legislative history documents available for the DTSA.

President Obama Signs Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act

The DTSA amends the federal Economic Espionage Act of 1996 to create, for the first time, a federal civil remedy for the misappropriation of trade secrets. This new law provides a clear path to enforce trade secret rights in federal court. Proponents of the DTSA argue that this will lead to more uniformity and predictability in applicable standards. However, that remains to be seen. The DTSA does not preempt any existing state laws governing trade secret enforcement. Accordingly, to the extent that state laws differ from each other and the DTSA, the differences will likely persist despite the new federal scheme.

Five Things to Know About the Defend Trade Secrets Act

On April 27, 2016, Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), which President Obama is scheduled to sign later today. The DTSA extends the current Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (“EEA), which criminalizes trade secret thefts, to the civil arena. This means for the first time, trade secret owners can now bring suits in federal district courts, without having to resort to another basis for jurisdiction, such as the ill-fitting Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. While not without critics, the DTSA is a major step forward in the protection of intellectual property in the United States, not least because federal law now fully recognizes four types of intellectual property (patents, copyrights, and trademarks). This article highlights five important things that every trade secret owner should know, which includes almost every company in the U.S.