It is widely accepted that the value of most companies today lies primarily in their confidential business and technical information and other intangible assets and when such assets are stolen it is almost always by employees and business partners, not unknown third parties. Yet, many companies continue to make minimal efforts to protect such assets through proper non-disclosure agreements (“NDAs”), disclosing secrets without requiring a signed NDA, relying on the same poorly-drafted NDA in all cases, or failing to follow through to ensure agreements are properly signed and filed.
Admittedly, NDAs can’t provide perfect protection. Litigation is costly, burdensome and uncertain, and companies often prefer to remain silent about embarrassing leaks of trade secrets. Consequently, the first line of defense should always be sound security precautions, such as locked doors, limited access, logbooks, security cameras, encryption, monitoring, and the like. However, in the event of a leak, the company that regularly requires signed, well-drafted NDAs is far more likely to achieve a favorable outcome than one that does not.
Wearable-device maker, Jawbone, learned that last month when the San Francisco Superior Court granted its request for an injunction against several former employees accused of loading thousands of confidential files onto thumb drives and e-mailing them to personal e-mails, before quitting their employment and going to work for Fitbit, Jawbone’s competitor. The court found the employees breached the confidentiality provisions in their employment contracts and ordered them to return all of the files. So far at least 18,000 files have been returned. The case is typical and is probably far from over, but certainly Jawbone is far better off due to the contractual obligations it imposed on its employers.
To ensure good results like that, below are some best practices to keep in mind when drafting NDAs. Continue reading
Defendants Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar lost an attempt to dispose of by summary judgment a wage-fixing lawsuit filed against them by 64,600 engineers, designers, quality analysts, artists, editors, and system administrators employed by the seven companies.
In the fascinating class-action lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend the defendant tech companies colluded to not hire employees away from each other, thereby reducing competition and lowering wages. On Friday, US District Court Judge Lucy Koh quashed the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, so the case will move forward to trial.
Read more about the case HERE
In 2010, Hewlett-Packard sued its former CEO for threatened misappropriation of trade secrets, after he took a position as President of Oracle. In 2012, Taiwan’s Acer, Inc. sued its former CEO for breach of a non-competition agreement after he quit and took a top position at Lenovo. And last month, criminal charges were filed against five employees of Taiwan’s HTC Corp., for allegedly conspiring to form a competing company using secrets stolen from HTC.
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. Courts and lawmakers have long struggled to establish a balance between those competing interests. Below is a general overview of relevant laws and practices in the U.S. and Asia. Continue reading
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, notoriously secretive Apple Inc. was forced to divulge many diverse, and fascinating, trade secrets in its closely-watched litigation with Samsung (now in jury deliberation). Witnesses were compelled to testify concerning Apple’s development of the iPhone and iPad, its marketing budget and other sensitive matters, including – ironically – measures taken to protect the confidentiality of its trade secrets.
Unlike patents, a trade secret cannot gain protection through registration, but only through reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy. For Apple, such efforts included “locking down” one floor in a building and installing cameras and keycard readers to ensure that Project Purple, their code name for development of the iPhone, would remain confidential. Team members were recruited only from within the company and were only told the nature of the project after they had joined the team.
While few of us deal with trade secrets of that magnitude, virtually every successful company has some commercially valuable information that derives its value from not being widely known. In a future blog post, we will address judicial, legislative and administrative issues relating to trade secrets, but this post concerns practical measures that should be considered to protect the confidentiality of trade secrets. Continue reading