California Labor Code Section 925 prohibits employers from requiring employees who reside and work primarily in California, as a condition of employment, to agree to any provision that would require the employee to litigate outside California any claim arising in California, or that would deprive the employee of the benefit of California law with respect to any claim arising in California.  Under Section 925, any such provision is voidable by the employee and if the employee exercises her right to void the provision, then any such claim shall be adjudicated in California under California law.[1]
Continue Reading California Labor Code Section 925 and How Employers Can Avoid It

The protection and retention of confidential information and trade secrets permeate nearly every transaction. Employment-law successor liability presents a substantial risk in transactions even when purchase agreements seemingly contain protective language. The general rule that an asset buyer does not assume a seller’s liabilities does not necessarily apply in the employment context, at least not in all cases. Targeted labor and employment diligence helps to identify potential areas of post-acquisition risk. Diligence also helps foster a greater understanding of the seller’s business and its workforce, making for a smoother post-acquisition integration effort. Identifying key underlying trade secrets and efforts to safeguard those trade secrets leading up to the transaction, and ensuring appropriate agreements are in place post-transaction to protect such trade secrets, are critical elements to the due-diligence process.
Continue Reading The Critical Nature of Employment and Trade Secret Diligence in Corporate Transactions

Global competition in high-tech industries is as intense as ever, and U.S. administrative agencies continue to find themselves at the center of global disputes between foreign companies seeking to vindicate trade secret and intellectual property rights.  That outlook was confirmed this month in a highly-anticipated ruling by the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) in a trade secret dispute between two South Korean manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries.
Continue Reading LG Chem’s Win In $1 Billion Electric Vehicle Trade Secret Dispute Upheld by International Trade Commission

Courts are increasingly scrutinizing agreements that extend beyond what is necessary to protect bona fide confidential information and trade secrets.  The recent decision in Hamilton v. Juul Labs, Inc., Case No. 3:20-cv-03710-EMC, illustrates this trend.  On January 27, 2021, a California federal judge ruled that an ex-employee’s lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, Inc. regarding Juul’s allegedly over-restrictive non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) may move forward.  The case, filed by Juul’s former Director of Program Management, Marcie Hamilton, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Edward M. Chen presiding.
Continue Reading A “Culture Of Concealment” – Scrutinizing Overbroad NDAs

The recent case of Multimedia Sales & Marketing, Inc. v. Marzullo, et al., — N.E.3d —-, 2020 IL App (1st) 191790 (1st Dist. Dec. 21, 2020), demonstrates the peril that attorney fees sanctions present for litigants who bring trade secret misappropriation claims in bad faith.
Continue Reading Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Sanctions Against Radio Advertiser For Bad Faith Trade Secrets Claims

During the Obama Administration, American foreign policy made a strategic “pivot” to Asia with the goal of establishing a more balanced economic, diplomatic, and security-focused approach and relationship between the U.S. and the region that would serve as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence (see, e.g., the Trans-Pacific Partnership).

Continue Reading The China Pivot: Closing the “Back Door” to Trade Secret and IP Theft

Trade secrets and other proprietary information can be among a business’ most valuable assets and drive its competitive advantage.  It is therefore ordinarily critical that employees be bound by an enforceable agreement that prohibits them from misusing or otherwise harming the value of the employer’s confidential information.  The recent California Court of Appeal decision, Brown v. TGS Management Co., LLC (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 303, should be of concern to employers because it holds that an employee confidentiality agreement may be voided as a de facto unlawful non-compete agreement if it has the effect of preventing the employee from working in the industry.   
Continue Reading California Court Strikes Down Overbroad Confidentiality Agreement as a de facto Non-Compete

Employment agreements with restrictive covenants typically contain both a forum selection clause, which determines the forum where a dispute must be heard, and a choice of law clause, which determines the law that applies to the dispute. As lawyers who regularly litigate post-employment restrictive covenant cases well know, enforcement or restrictive covenants often turns on which court decides the dispute, and what law applies, which is why these provisions are so important.  Often, however, employers consider these provisions as mere drafting afterthoughts.  They shouldn’t be, given the outsized importance they can play in determining enforcement.  Moreover, at the dispute stage – whether seeking to enforce or resist a restrictive covenant – forum selection and choice of law provisions should inform, and often drive, litigation strategy.
Continue Reading Don’t Neglect Forum Selection and Choice of Law Provisions When Drafting or Litigating Restrictive Covenants

On September 21, 2020, in a published 2-1 opinion in Doe v. Google Inc., the California Court of Appeal (Dist. 1, Div. 4), permitted three current and former Google employees to proceed with their challenge of Google’s confidentiality agreement as unlawfully overbroad and anti-competitive under the California Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) (Lab. Code § 2698 et seq.).  In doing so, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order sustaining Google’s demurrer on the basis of preemption by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) (29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.) under San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 244–245 (1959).  The court held that while the plaintiffs’ claims relate to conduct arguably within the scope of the NLRA, they fall within the local interest exception to Garmon preemption and may therefore go forward.  It remains to be seen whether plaintiffs will be able to sustain their challenges to Google’s confidentiality policies on the merits.  However, Doe serves as a reminder to employers to carefully craft robust confidentiality agreements, particularly in the technology sector, in anticipation of potential challenges employees may make to those agreements.
Continue Reading California Court of Appeal Rules that Challenge to Google’s Confidentiality Agreements May Proceed Past the Pleading Stage

Grounded in California’s recognized hostility against restraints on competition, a recently published opinion from the California Court of Appeal, Hooked Media Grp., Inc. v. Apple Inc.[1], held that to establish trade secret misappropriation under California law,[2] it is not enough to show that the defendant has knowledge of the plaintiff’s trade secrets. Rather, in addition to proving that the subject information constitutes a trade secret,[3] the plaintiff must prove that the defendant improperly acquired or actually used the information. The ruling should be of interest to both former and new employers, as we explain below.
Continue Reading As A Reminder That California Has Rejected The Doctrine Of Inevitable Disclosure, Court of Appeal Rules Knowledge Of Former Employer’s Trade Secret Information Does Not By Itself Constitute Misappropriation

Why should companies considering trade secret litigation consider their patent portfolios?  After all, trade secrets, by definition, are secret.  They have value in the marketplace by virtue of not being disclosed.  And like the formula for Coca-Cola, that value can continue perpetually as long as the secrecy of trade secrets is maintained.  Patents, on the other hand, represent a limited monopoly granted to the patent-holder in exchange for an enabling disclosure of the patented invention, a disclosure sufficient to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention.  Of course, this public disclosure requirement for patentability destroys secrecy.  This means that once the invention is disclosed in a published patent or application, it cannot be subject to trade secret protection.  In the context of a litigation concerning whether a claimed trade secret is covered by a patent, the interface between trade secret protection and patent protection can become existential.  The defendant may contend that once the claimed trade secrets found their way into the patent’s enabling disclosure, they lost any trade secret protection.  The plaintiff will try to delineate sharply between technology covered by the patent and its disclosures, and technology that remains undisclosed and thus properly subject to trade secret protection.  So a proper understanding of the interplay between trade secret protection and patent protection can be critical to the outcome in a trade secret case.
Continue Reading Why Patents Can Matter In Trade Secret Cases