Whether under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) or under state law uniform trade secrets acts (“UTSA”), assessing monetary damages in trade secret misappropriation cases is rarely easy.  By definition, trade secrets lose their value once they lose their secrecy, but the lost value is often difficult to monetize.  Calculating damages for misappropriation should account for the lost value of the trade secret “asset,” but courts often lose sight of this calculus in fixing damages.  Lost profits, unjust enrichment, and reasonable royalties are common measures of damages in trade secret misappropriation cases, but there is another rarely considered measure of damages:  the diminution in value of a plaintiff’s trade secret caused by the misappropriation.  Damages for the diminution in value of a trade secret are a form of compensatory damages, though some courts will grant injunctive relief due to the difficulty in valuing the diminution of trade secrets.  Aerodynamics Inc. v. Caesars Entm’t Operating Co., No. 2:15-cv-01344-JAD-PAL, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129588, at *1 (D. Nev. Sep. 24, 2015).  DTSA (and most UTSA statutes), of course, recognize compensatory damages as a viable theory.  18 U.S.C. § 1836(b)(3)(B).  When courts have assessed trade-secret diminution theories, they have emphasized the critical importance of a quality expert and an almost asset-sale like economic valuation of the trade secrets.
Continue Reading Diminution in Value As A Measure of Damages for Trade Secret Misappropriation

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

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

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), enacted in 2016, created a federal right of action for misappropriation of trade secrets. The Ninth Circuit recently addressed for the first time whether a DTSA claim may be brought against misconduct predating the enactment of the DTSA.  The Ninth Circuit held that it could, so long as the misappropriation continued until after the enactment of the DTSA.  See Attia v. Google LLC, — F.3d —, 2020 WL 7380256 (9th Cir. 2020).  
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Applies the “Continued Use” Doctrine to the Defend Trade Secrets Act

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

On September 2, 2020, the Fifth Circuit declined to void a fee award of nearly $2.3 million in favor of an employer that had prevailed on its trade secret theft claim against its former employee, because the employee willfully failed to comply with the bankruptcy court’s “extremely explicit” order regarding his objections to the award.
Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Affirms Attorney’s Fee Award of $2.3 million in Misappropriation Case Against Former Employee who Failed to Comply with Court’s Objections Order

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States and Americans anxiously await the arrival of a vaccine, biotech companies are grappling with the uncertainty of patent protection for COVID related biomedical advances and, as a result, are turning to trade secret protection instead.  For policy-makers looking to incentivize the search for the magic bullet of an effective vaccine, this raises tough questions:  What is the best policy or mix of policies to incentivize industry and stimulate a rapid, effective vaccine?  And should that policy tilt towards sharing information or towards protecting monetary incentives?  This article addresses the limitations on patent eligibility, the role of trade secret protection, and the current federal policy landscape on biological innovation incentives during the pandemic.
Continue Reading Trade Secret Protection & the COVID-19 Cure: Observations on Federal Policy-Making & Potential Impact on Biomedical Advances

On April 23, 2020, the California Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision refusing to order payment of a “reasonable royalty” as damages for misappropriation of a trade secret.  For the first time in a published California appellate decision, the Ajaxo court applied a test used to determine royalties in patent cases to a trade secret misappropriation case. Ajaxo, Inc. v. E*Trade Financial Corporation, 261 Cal. Rptr. 3d 583 (Cal. Ct. App. 2020).

Continue Reading What’s the Value? California Court Applies Patent Royalties Test To Trade Secret Claim

Although employers may not think that the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening their trade secrets, it is.  The massive layoffs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic[1] place employer trade secrets at risk.  Here, we offer 6 steps employers can consider to protect their trade secrets in these extraordinary times.
Continue Reading 6 Steps to Protect Your Trade Secrets During Covid-19 Layoffs