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How Not to Build a Case of Trade Secret Misappropriation

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a dismissal of trade secret claims, finding that although misappropriation of a trade secret prior to the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) does not preclude a claim arising from post-enactment or continued use of the same trade secret, the publication of a trade secret in a patent application extinguishes trade secret status. Eli Attia; Eli Attia Architect PC v. Google LLC, et al., Case No. 19-15771 (9th Cir. Dec. 16, 2020) (Wallace, J.) Eli Attia is an architect who developed a system and method for automated design, fabrication and construction, called Engineered Architecture (EA). In 2010, Attia entered into a partnership with Google. Attia disclosed his trade secrets related to the technology to Google so that they could work together to develop a program that would implement EA. Attia executed patent assignments with Google, and a year later Google filed patent applications related to...

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Defend Trade Secrets Act Supports Sealing Information on Appeal

Addressing whether purported trade secret information ought to remain under seal on appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in a one-judge order that the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) provided a statutory basis that overcame the presumption of public access. Magnesium Machine, LLC v. Terves, LLC, Case No. 20-3779 (6th Cir. Dec. 10, 2020) (McKeague, J.) This case presented the issue of what part of a record may be sealed on appeal—normally a routine question—in litigation that was anything but routine. According to the verified complaint, Magnesium Machine discovered a particular salt-based treatment for use on oil and gas tools. According to Magnesium, in the course of litigating a patent infringement suit against one of Magnesium's suppliers, Terves and its counsel, McDonald Hopkins, obtained information reflective of Magnesium's alleged trade secret from a third party pursuant to subpoena. Specifically, Magnesium claimed that...

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Amended Opinion Hedges Constitutionality of Punitive Damages Award

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit amended its August 2020 opinion in Epic Systems v. Tata Consultancy to clarify that its analysis of punitive damages applies only to this particular case. Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Case Nos. 19-1528, -1613 (7th Cir. Nov. 19, 2020) (Kanne, J.) In the district court action, the jury found that Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (TCS) used fraudulent means to access and steal Epic System's trade secrets and other confidential information, and awarded $240 million in compensatory damages and $700 million in punitive damages. The district court reduced the compensatory damage award to $140 million and reduced the punitive damages award to $280 million based on a Wisconsin statutory cap on punitive damages. Both sides appealed. On appeal, TCS contested the award of $280 million in punitive damages for various reasons, including that the award was not in line with the due process clause of the...

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A Clear Need: To Allege Misappropriation, Identify Trade Secret

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff had sufficiently pled trade secret misappropriation by identifying its trade secrets and how they were protected with sufficient particularity. InteliClear, LLC v. ETC Global Holdings, Inc., Case No. 19-55862 (9th Cir. Oct. 15, 2020) (Gould, J.). In 2004, InteliClear began development on a comprehensive electronic system for managing stock brokerage firm accounting, securities clearance and securities settlement services using a Structured Query Language relational database designed to handle millions of trades each business day. It named the program the “InteliClear System.” In 2008, ETC’s predecessor signed a software license agreement with InteliClear and obtained a license for the InteliClear System. The license agreement acknowledged that all information InteliClear provided was confidential, proprietary and copyrighted, and ETC...

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Texas Appellate Court Clarifies Scope of Remand

The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals found that a new trial on misappropriation and fraud claims must include a non-appealed breach of contract claim arising from the same set of facts. Title Source, Inc. v. HouseCanary, Inc., Case No. 04-19-00044-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio Aug. 26, 2020) (Watkins, J.). On June 3, 2020, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals issued an opinion remanding HouseCanary’s Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act and common-law fraud claims for a new trial because the jury instructions permitted the jury to consider both permissible and impermissible theories of recovery. (IP Update, June 18, 2020). Acting on Title Source’s motion for rehearing, the Court issued a substitute opinion with additional language clarifying the scope of the remand and making clear that HouseCanary may elect to recover on its non-appealed breach of contract claim and forego recovery (along with the new trial) on its misappropriation and fraud claims. To the extent...

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Epic Punitive Damages Award Violates Due Process

Addressing the appropriateness of three separate damages awards totaling $520 million, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s award of $140 million in compensatory damages, but found that $280 million in punitive damages does not meet the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Case Nos. 19-1528, 19-1613 (Aug. 20, 2020) (Kanne, J.). Epic Systems is a leading developer of electronic health record software, which it licenses to top hospitals in the United States. Each customer-licensed module is specific to the customer’s needs and can be customized to ensure proper integration with the customer’s systems. In order to facilitate customization and updates to the software, Epic provides a web portal called “UserWeb,” which provides access to various resources including administrative guides, training materials, software updates and forums. UserWeb also contains...

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Attorney’s Fees Properly Awarded in Unsuccessful Trade Secret Misappropriation and Civil Theft Suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a take-nothing judgment and an attorney’s fees award against plaintiffs in a trade secret misappropriation and civil theft suit under Texas law, finding that the fee award did not need to be segregated to various claims. ATOM Instrument Corp. v. Petroleum Analyzer Co., L.P., Case Nos. 19-29151, -20371 (5th Cir. Aug. 7, 2020) (Southwick, J.). The Court also remanded for an additional award of appellate attorney’s fees. Olstowski was a consultant for Petroleum Analyzer Co., L.P. (PAC), during which time he developed a krypton-chloride-based excimer lamp to detect sulfur with ultraviolet fluorescence. Although he developed the lamp independently, he used PAC resources to test the technology.  Olstowski and PAC negotiated but failed to agree on licensing. Olstowski founded ATOM Instrument to assist him in the licensing discussions. Subsequently, PAC filed a declaratory judgment action in Texas court alleging...

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Without Personal Jurisdiction or Causal Relationship, Wheels Come Off Misappropriation Claim

Without addressing the merits of the claim, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a trade secret misappropriation action based on lack of personal jurisdiction, finding no causal relationship between the competitors’ dealings in Illinois and the asserted claims. J.S.T. Corporation v. Foxconn Interconnect Technology Ltd., et al., Case No.19-2465 (7th Cir. July 13, 2020) (Barrett, J.). In 2005, General Motors (GM) retained Robert Bosch LLC to build a part for some of GM’s cars. To build the part, Bosch required a connector. Bosch turned to JST to design and build the part, which it did for years, becoming the sole supplier of the product to Bosch. After buying 15 million connectors, Bosch allegedly tricked JST into handing over its proprietary technical schematics and designs under the guise that GM required the materials and Bosch would keep them confidential. Instead, Bosch allegedly gave the materials to...

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Improper Use of Voluntarily Communicated Trade Secrets Sufficient to Maintain Action for Misappropriation in Texas

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that, under Texas law, a plaintiff can sustain an action for trade secret misappropriation even if the plaintiff voluntarily communicated the alleged trade secrets to the defendant. Hoover Panel Systems, Inc. v. HAT Contract, Inc., Case No. 19-10650 (5th Cir. June 17, 2020) (per curiam). HAT Contract hired Hoover Panel Systems to design and manufacture a power beam for desks in an open office environment. The parties engaged in oral negotiations that culminated in a written contract, which provided that “any . . . proprietary information shall be considered confidential and shall be retained in confidence by the other party.” The contract also provided that the “parties agree to keep in confidence . . . all information disclosed by the other party, which the disclosing party indicates is confidential or proprietary or marked with words of similar import.” Hoover developed a prototype and forwarded it to HAT,...

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Damages Award Crumbles in Texas Concrete Manufacturing Row

The Supreme Court of Texas held that a limited partner had standing to sue for alleged loss in the value of its interest in the partnership, but reversed a damages award in favor of that limited partner for insufficient evidence. Pike v. Texas EMC Management, LLC, Case No. 17-0557 (Tex. June 19, 2020) (Busby, J) (Bland, J, dissenting). Texas EMC Products (the partnership) was formed between investors (Wilson and Walker, both individually and through Walker’s company Few Ready Mix) and a Dutch company, EMC Cement BV, which held technology in “energetically modified cement.” Texas EMC Management, LLC, was the general partner. EMC Cement BV, Wilson and Walker were all limited partners with minority shares. The partnership established an EMC plant in Texas. Pike was hired as general manager of Texas EMC Management and the plant. The partnership’s technology did not work as hoped, and the partnership never made a profit. At some point, Walker and Wilson refused to...

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