Damages
Subscribe to Damages's Posts

A Window into Trade Secret Damages: R&D Costs Can Quantify Unjust Enrichment

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s finding of damages in a trade secrets case under Pennsylvania’s version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The Third Circuit explained that it is appropriate to quantify damages under the unjust enrichment standard by considering the trade secret owner’s research and development costs as an indicator of the research and development costs that the defendant avoided but would have incurred if not for its misappropriation. PPG Indus. Inc. v. Jiangsu Tie Mao Glass Co. Ltd. et al., Case No. 21-2288 (3rd Cir. Aug. 30, 2022) (Jordan, Porter, Phipps, JJ.)

PPG is the maker of OpticorTM, a novel plastic for airplane windows. PPG sued Jiangsu Tie Mao Glass (TMG), asserting trade secret misappropriation, among other things. PPG alleged that TMG persuaded a former PPG employee to provide TMG with a treasure trove of trade secrets and that TMG used the trade secrets to begin making plans to produce Opticor-quality windows and to build a factory to manufacture its product. After TMG failed to appear in the case for more than a year, the district court entered a default judgement for PPG. Only then did TMG show up. The district court declined to set aside the default judgment and ultimately awarded damages for TMG’s unjust enrichment totaling about $9 million, which it then trebled to $26.5 million, and issued a permanent injunction against TMG. TMG appealed.

The Third Circuit began by analyzing whether TMG was unjustly enriched as a result of its acts. Trade secret damages are commonly determined either by calculating actual loss to the plaintiff or by quantifying the defendant’s unjust enrichment from the use of the trade secret. The Court found that although TMG did not sell products containing the Opticor technology, TMG was unjustly enriched by its use of the trade secrets. For example, TMG used PPG’s proprietary drawings (minus PPG’s name and logo) to ask a subcontractor to “manufacture for TMG the same molds that it did for PPG.” TMG also was building, or had plans to build, a production facility to manufacture its version of the Opticor technology. The Court determined that TMG was unjustly enriched because TMG used PPG’s trade secrets to completely skip the research and development phase of its version of the Opticor technology and instead move directly to the phase of preparing for production.

Next, the Third Circuit considered whether the damages amount awarded to PPG was appropriate. Unjust enrichment requires the defendant to pay the plaintiff the value of the benefit conferred from the use of plaintiff’s trade secrets. This benefit can be a cost that was avoided and may include development costs. The Court found it appropriate to consider the research and development costs PPG incurred in developing the Opticor technology as an indicator of the research and development costs TMG would have sustained to develop its own version of the Opticor technology in the absence of misappropriation. In short, “[t]he costs a plaintiff spent in development [...]

Continue Reading




Holdover Trademark Licensee Status Can’t Do Heavy Lifting on “Exceptionality”

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit addressed issues of enhanced remedies in a dispute regarding the sale of weightlifting equipment beyond the expiration of a licensing agreement between the involved parties. Pointing to the different standard required to prove a violation and damages, the Court ultimately reduced a trademark infringement award to about a quarter of the amount initially awarded. Max Rack, Inc. v. Core Health & Fitness, LLC, et al., Case No. 20-3598 (6th Cir. July 14, 2022) (Cole, Rogers, Murphy, JJ.)

In 2006, Max Rack exclusively licensed its patents and trademarks relating to weightlifting racks to Star Trac Strength. Core Health subsequently acquired Star Trac and its licensing agreements. The final patent covering the Max Rack equipment expired on November 21, 2015, thereby terminating the licensing agreements between Max Rack and Core Health. The agreements permitted Core Health to sell any remaining Max Rack units for six months following expiration of the license.

Following expiration of the licensing agreements, Max Rack learned that Core Health failed to update web pages, marketing materials and owner’s manuals to reflect the termination of Core Health’s affiliation with Max Rack. Core Health’s failure to scrub references to “Max Rack” extended to third-party sellers’ websites advertising Core Health’s competing “Freedom Rack” product using the Max Rack name. Core Health also sold 271 more units manufactured as Max Racks after the license expired, 238 of which were sold during the six-month grace period. Of the remaining 33 units, 24 were sold after the six-month window had closed, and nine were alleged to have had their labels changed from Max Rack to Core Health’s Freedom Rack. Core Health further failed to pay Max Rack royalties for any of the 271 sales made after the license expired.

Max Rack brought two federal claims under 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114(1)(a) and 1125(a)(1)(A), alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition. Max Rack also brought three claims under Ohio’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act, alleging that Core Health passed off the Max Rack as its own machine and caused a likelihood of confusion regarding the source of the machine and regarding Core Health’s affiliation with the Max Rack trademark. The jury awarded Max Rack $1 million in damages and $250,000 in Core Health’s profits. Ruling on post-trial motions, the district court overturned the $1 million damages award for lack of evidence of any consumer confusion but enhanced the $250,000 award to $500,000 and further awarded Max Rack attorneys’ fees. Both parties appealed.

The Sixth Circuit sidestepped the fact-laden analysis to determine whether Core Health’s actions created a likelihood of consumer confusion, reasoning that the dispute related to the “holdover licensee.” Citing its own precedent and precedent from the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits, the Court applied a much more objective standard, finding that unauthorized use of a licensed trademark by a licensee after the license has expired is by itself sufficient to establish a likelihood of confusion in the mind of the consumer.

Although the Sixth Circuit used [...]

Continue Reading




Can’t Hide Behind Minor Clerical Error to Escape Willful Infringement Verdict

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court decision correcting a clerical error in a claim. Pavo Solutions LLC v. Kingston Technology Company, Inc., Case Nos. 21-1834 (Fed. Cir. June 3, 2022) (Lourie, Prost, Chen, JJ.)

The Pavo patent is generally directed to a “flash memory apparatus having a single body type rotary cover.” CATR Co., later substituted by Pavo, sued Kingston for infringing the Pavo patent. Supported by the patent specification and prosecution, the district court judicially corrected the claim language in its claim construction order to read “pivoting the cover with respect to the flash memory main body,” not “pivoting the case with respect to the flash memory main body” (change emphasized). Pavo’s damages expert, Bergman, presented a profit-based model of reasonable royalty damages, relying on an earlier settlement agreement between CATR and IPMedia to arrive at a profit split of 18.75%, amounting to 40 cents/unit for Kingston. The jury returned a verdict of willful infringement and awarded Pavo a 20% reasonable royalty.

Judicial Correction

The Federal Circuit addressed and affirmed three issues on appeal, the first being that the district court approximately corrected an obvious minor clerical error in the claims. Correction is appropriate “only if (1) the correction is not subject to reasonable debate based on consideration of the claim language and the specification and (2) the prosecution history does not suggest a different interpretation of the claims.” In deciding whether a particular correction is appropriate, a court “must consider how a potential correction would impact the scope of a claim and if the inventor is entitled to the resulting claim scope based on the written description of the patent.”

The Federal Circuit decided that the error was clear from the full context of the claim language, supported by the specification, and did not broaden the claim scope. Additionally, the correction was not subject to reasonable debate. Judicial correction “is merely giving to it the meaning which was intended by the applicant and understood by the examiner.” Kingston’s alternative correction would just reverse the order in which the structural components appear in the claim.

The prosecution history also did not suggest a different interpretation of the claim. The applicant and the examiner consistently characterized the claims as describing pivoting the case within the cover, which both the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) and the court recognized. Each reviewing body understood the nature and scope of the invention consistent with correcting “case” to “cover.” Kingston argued that the Board denied the applicant’s request to correct the language, but the denial was on procedural grounds.

Willfulness

Second, the Federal Circuit determined that Kingston could form requisite intent to support a willful infringement verdict despite its arguments that it reasonably relied on not infringing the claims as originally written, and it could not anticipate that a court would later correct the claims. However, “reliance on an obvious minor clerical error in the claim language is not a defense to willful infringement.” By definition, [...]

Continue Reading




Over My Dead Body: Defendant Can’t “Wait Until He Dies” to Pay Arbitration Award

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s interpretation of an arbitration award, finding that the defendant could not “wait until he dies” to pay a portion of the damages award. Nano Gas Techs., Inc. v. Roe, Case Nos. 21-1809; -1822 (7th Cir. Apr. 25, 2022) (Rovner, St. Eve, Jackson-Akiwumi, JJ.)

Clifton Roe invented a nozzle that disperses gases into liquids. Roe assigned the invention to Nano Gas as part of a collaboration agreement under which Roe received 20% equity and a board seat. The agreement also provided for a salary that was subject to Nano Gas’s ability to raise capital and Roe’s success in developing the invention at Nano Gas’s facility. The parties’ relationship deteriorated after the collaboration failed to produce the desired results. Roe ultimately took the machine and related intellectual property created by another Nano Gas employee and continued developing the product on his own. Arbitration ensued.

The arbitrator concluded that Roe did not have the right to remove the machine and related intellectual property from Nano Gas’s facility. The arbitrator determined that Roe should pay Nano Gas for the financial harm it suffered but also found that Roe deserved compensation for his work on the technology. In his award, the arbitrator indicated that he had initially considered giving Roe a royalty on future profits but declined to do so because Roe was a shareholder in Nano Gas and could benefit financially from the invention’s future success. The arbitrator offset Nano Gas’s $1.5 million damages award with an award to Roe of $1 million and ordered Roe to pay the $500,000 offset “in such manner as Roe chooses.” Roe was also required to return the related intellectual property or pay Nano Gas $150,000.

Nano Gas sued to enforce the award, and the district court entered judgment for $650,000 ($500,000 for the offset and $150,000 for the intellectual property). Nano Gas then filed a turnover motion for Roe’s Nano Gas stock, valued at $117,000. Roe argued that the arbitration award protected his status as a shareholder and allowed him to pay the damages “in such manner as [he] chooses.” Roe planned to pay the award with dividends from his stock and maintained that he could “wait until he die[s]” to satisfy the debt. The district court denied Nano Gas’s turnover motion, finding that Roe was entitled to remain a shareholder and could pay both awards “in such a manner as Roe chooses.” Nano Gas filed a motion to reconsider, and the court amended its order to require Roe to either turn over the stock or identify other assets to satisfy the $150,000 award. As to the remaining $500,000, the district court found that Roe could still choose how and when to pay that portion of the award. Both parties appealed.

The Seventh Circuit first addressed Roe’s argument that the arbitration award entitled him to remain a shareholder. The Court observed that the award did not stipulate that Roe would remain a shareholder indefinitely [...]

Continue Reading




Terms of Degree Not Always Indefinite

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a district court determination that the claim terms “resilient” and “pliable” were indefinite. The Federal Circuit found that the claims, while broad, were sufficiently definite in view of both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. The Federal Circuit also upheld the district court’s findings of no induced infringement, finding zero evidence of predicate direct infringement of the properly construed method claims. Niazi Licensing Corp. v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc., Case No. 21-1864 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 11, 2022) (Taranto, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.) The Federal Circuit also affirmed entry of sanctions excluding portions of the plaintiff’s technical and damages expert reports for failing to disclose predicate facts during discovery and also affirmed exclusion of portions of plaintiff’s damages expert report as unreliable for being conclusory and legally insufficient.

In reaching its decision on indefiniteness, the Federal Circuit focused on the terms “resilient” and “pliable” as used in a claim directed to a double catheter structure. Citing the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, the Federal Circuit explained that language has “inherent limitations,” and stated that a “delicate balance” must be struck to provide “clear notice of what is claimed” and avoid the “zone of uncertainty” relating to infringement. The Court noted that under Nautilus, claims must provide “objective boundaries,” but the Court distinguished the present case from those in which “subjective boundaries” created uncertainty and rendered the claim indefinite. The Court pointed to its 2005 decision in Datamize v. Plumtree Software as a “classic example” of subjectivity where the term “aesthetically pleasing” was deemed indefinite because the patent provided no way to provide “some standard for measuring the scope of the phrase.” The Court also noted that a patent’s claims, written description and prosecution history—along with any relevant extrinsic evidence—can provide or help identify the necessary objective boundaries for claim scope

The Federal Circuit concluded that there was sufficient support in the intrinsic evidence, both in the claims themselves and the written description, to allow a skilled artisan to determine the scope of the claims with reasonable certainty. The Court explained that the claim at issue recited “an outer, resilient catheter having shape memory” that “itself provides guidance on what this term means—the outer catheter must have ‘shape memory,’ and ‘sufficient stiffness.’” The Court also cited to “[n]umerous dependent claims [that] further inform the meaning of this term by providing exemplary resilient materials of which the outer catheter could be made. . . . The written description provides similar guidance . . . . Thus, a person of ordinary skill reading the claims and written description would know of exemplary materials that can be used to make a resilient outer catheter, i.e., one that has shape memory and stiffness such that it can return to its original shape.”

The Federal Circuit distinguished this case from Datamize, where the claim scope depended on the eye of each observer, finding it more akin to its 2017 decision in Sonix Technologies. In that [...]

Continue Reading




Acts Supporting Induced Infringement Allegations Must Occur During Damages Period

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a damages verdict because the acts supporting the induced infringement finding took place years before the statutory damages period and thus could not support a finding of specific intent to induce infringement. Roche Diagnostics Corporation v. Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC, Case Nos. 21-1609; -1633 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 8, 2022) (Prost, Taranto, JJ.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

Meso Scale Diagnostics (Meso) was formed in 1995 pursuant to a joint venture agreement between IGEN and Meso Scale Technologies. As part of the agreement, IGEN granted Meso exclusive rights to certain patents. In 1998, Roche acquired Boehringer Mannheim GmbH, an entity that IGEN had previously licensed to develop, use, manufacture and sell ECL assays and instruments in a particular field. As a result of the acquisition, Roche acquired Boehringer’s license rights, including the field-of-use restrictions. In 2003, IGEN and Roche terminated the 1992 agreement and executed a new agreement granting Roche a non-exclusive license to IGEN’s ECL technology in the field of “human patient diagnostics.” As part of the transaction, IGEN transferred its ECL patents to a newly formed company, BioVeris. In 2007, Roche also acquired BioVeris, including the ECL patents. Roche believed the acquisition meant the elimination of the field-of-use restrictions (and hence no patent liability) and began selling its products without regard to those restrictions.

In 2017, Roche sued Meso seeking a declaratory judgment that it did not infringe Meso’s rights arising from the 1995 joint venture license agreement. Meso counterclaimed for infringement. At summary judgment, Roche argued that Meso’s 1995 license didn’t convey the rights Meso asserted. The district court denied Roche’s summary judgment motion, and the parties tried the case to a jury. The jury found that Meso held exclusive license rights to the asserted claims, that Roche directly infringed one patent and induced infringement of two others and that Roche’s infringement was willful. The district court denied Roche’s post-trial motions challenging the infringement verdict and damages award. The district court granted Roche’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on willfulness but denied Meso’s motion to enhance damages. The district court also rendered a non-infringement judgment on three additional patents on the ground that Meso waived compulsory counterclaims. Roche appealed the findings regarding the scope of Meso’s license rights, the induced infringement verdict and the damages award. Meso appealed the district court’s application of the compulsory counterclaim rule.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the scope of Meso’s rights under the 1995 license agreement, which was the only ground on which Roche challenged the direct infringement judgment. The Court found that there was clear testimony from the manager of the joint venture that the work involved in developing the patent that was found to be directly infringed was part of the joint venture. The Court dismissed Roche’s argument that Meso acted in a manner that demonstrated that it had accepted Roche’s rights to the asserted patents, finding that the argument was “made in passing only in a footnote,” [...]

Continue Reading




Patent Venue Statute Doesn’t Apply to Third-Party Counterclaim Defendant; Acts in Furtherance of Partnership May Be Imputed to Partner for Venue Purposes

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s determination of proper venue, finding that the patent venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), does not apply to a third-party counterclaim defendant and that acts done by separate entities in furtherance of a partnership can be imputed to a partner for purposes of venue determination. The Federal Circuit also affirmed and reversed jury verdicts of adequate written description and patent co-ownership. BASF Plant Sci., LP v. Commonwealth Sci. and Indus. Rsch. Org., Case Nos. 20-1415; -1416; -1919; -1920 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 15, 2022) (Newman, Taranto, Chen, JJ.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a research arm of the Australian government, owns six patents directed to the engineering of plants, particularly canola, to produce specified oils not native to the plants. BASF Plant Science is a plant biotechnology company. CSIRO and BASF each explored genetic modification of familiar oilseed crop plants, such as canola, to get them to produce omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), commonly known as “fish oil,” that could be fed to farm-raised fish and are beneficial to human health. In 2007, CSIRO and BASF discussed a focused collaboration and in 2008 entered into a two-year Materials Transfer and Evaluation Agreement (MTEA) to advance that goal. In 2010, following the conclusion of the MTEA, CSIRO partnered with another Australian government entity, Grains Research and Development Corporation, and private company, Nuseed, to commercialize its products. CSIRO granted Nuseed an exclusive license to CSIRO’s LCPUFA technology and patents. In 2011, BASF entered into a commercialization agreement with Cargill. BASF developed a canola seed line that it used to apply for regulatory approvals, which Cargill used in cross-breeding work. As part of the joint project, BASF deposited seeds with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) to support BASF’s patent applications.

During this period, BASF and CSIRO entered negotiations for BASF to take a license to CSIRO’s LCPUFA technology, but the negotiations broke down. In 2016, Nuseed sent Cargill a letter identifying multiple CSIRO patents and inviting Cargill to discuss CSIRO’s omega-3 patent portfolio. In April 2017, BASF sued Nuseed in the District of Delaware, seeking a declaratory judgment that BASF did not infringe certain CSIRO patents listed in the 2016 letter. The District of Delaware dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

In 2017, BASF filed a declaratory judgment action in the Eastern District of Virginia against CSIRO, Nuseed and Grains Research (collectively, CSIRO). CSIRO filed an answer and counterclaims asserting infringement of the asserted patents against BASF and Cargill. BASF entered the case as a party and asserted co-ownership of the asserted patents under the MTEA. Cargill moved to dismiss the counterclaims for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. The district court denied the motion, determining that it had personal jurisdiction over Cargill and that venue was proper. Cargill did not dispute that it had a regular and established place of business in the Eastern District of Virginia but argued that it [...]

Continue Reading




Federal Circuit Sends iPhone Patent Dispute Back for Third Damages Trial

Considering numerous claim construction, infringement and damages issues related to patents allegedly covering Apple’s iPhones 5 and 6 series technology, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined that the district court should have held a third trial on damages because the plaintiff’s expert improperly treated the asserted patents as key during his analysis of purportedly comparable license agreements. Apple Inc. v. Wi-Lan Inc., Case No. 20-2011 (Fed. Cir.) (Moore, C.J.; Bryson, Prost, JJ.)

This appeal is the latest iteration of a patent dispute between Apple and Wi-Lan that has lasted eight years and included two trials. The two patents at issue are directed to bandwidth technology that allows a “subscriber unit” rather than the “base station” to allocate bandwidth. At issue in the appeal were numerous challenges from both Apple and Wi-Lan.

The Federal Circuit rejected Apple’s challenge to the district court’s construction of “subscriber unit,” which Apple claimed was limited to “customer premises equipment [CPE]” (e.g., home routers). Although Apple pointed to parts of the specification that suggested that a CPE was a subscriber unit, the Court found that no language met the heavy burden of a clear and unmistakable redefinition of “subscriber unit.” That the sole disclosed embodiment was a CPE did not move the needle, as nothing indicated that the embodiment was limiting.

Next, the Federal Circuit affirmed the jury verdict on liability, finding that substantial evidence supported the jury’s determination that the accused iPhones contained a subscriber unit. The Court found that a jury could conclude from expert testimony that an iPhone allocates bandwidth between two separate connections—voice-over-LTE and data.

Because of the appeal, Apple may now be on the hook for additional infringement liability. The district court had granted Apple summary judgment of noninfringement based on a license agreement between Intel (the maker of Apple’s processor chips in the accused products) and Wi-Lan. According to Apple, this agreement gave Intel a license through patent expiry rather than for the license term. The Federal Circuit rejected that reading of the license between Intel and Wi-Lan, instead finding that the license extended only to pre-termination sales, not in perpetuity as Apple claimed.

Finally, the Federal Circuit found that the district court correctly ordered a new trial on damages after the first trial in the case but erred by not ordering the new trial on damages based on expert testimony admitted at the second damages trial. Regarding the first damages trial, the Court rejected Wi-Lan’s challenge to the district court’s determination that Wi-Lan’s damages expert did not appropriately tie his damages opinion to the benefits of the patented technology. With respect to the second damages trial, the Court found that Wi-Lan’s damages expert gave improper testimony because, without tying his opinion to the facts of the case, he stated that the asserted patents were the “key” drivers of the royalty rates in other license agreements he relied upon—licenses that were to a much larger patent portfolio. Without a sound basis in evidence, [...]

Continue Reading




Federal Circuit Tosses Shaw: IPR Estoppel Applies to All Grounds That Reasonably Could Have Been Raised

March 2022 Update: The Federal Circuit has issued an errata to this decision. Read about it here.

Addressing inter partes review (IPR) estoppel after the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2018 decision in SAS Institute, Inc. v. Iancu, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overruled its decision in Shaw Industries Group v. Automated Creel Systems, stating that the only plausible reading of 35 U.S.C. § 315(e)(2) estops a party from raising all claims and grounds that reasonably could have been included in the party’s petition for IPR. The Court also rejected the district court’s two-tier damages model as contrary to customary patent damages calculations. California Institute of Technology v. Broadcom Limited, Case Nos. 20-2222; 21-1527 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 4, 2022) (Lourie, Linn, Dyk, JJ.) (Dyk, J., dissenting in part).

Background

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) filed suit against Broadcom and Apple, alleging patent infringement directed to the generation and repetition of information in a wireless data transmission system. Wireless transmission systems generally use data repetition so that the transmitted information may be decoded even when data loss occurs. The patented circuitry discloses a form of irregular data repetition in which portions of the information bits may be repeated a varying number of times.

Apple filed multiple IPR petitions challenging the validity of the claims at issue. The Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) concluded in all cases that Apple failed to show that the challenged claims were unpatentable as obvious. At the district court, Apple and Broadcom raised new arguments of obviousness not asserted in the IPR proceedings. The district court granted Caltech’s motion for summary judgment of no invalidity, precluding Apple and Broadcom from raising arguments at trial that they reasonably could have raised in their IPR petitions.

At trial, the district court instructed the jury that “repeat” means “generation of additional bits, where generation can include, for example, duplication or reuse of bits.” Apple and Broadcom argued that the Broadcom chips (which were integrated into Apple devices) did not infringe the asserted claims because they did not repeat information at all. With respect to one of the asserted patents, the district court did not provide a jury instruction relating to its construction that the claim language “information bits appear in a variable number of subsets” requires irregular information bit repetition. The jury found infringement of all asserted claims. Apple and Broadcom filed post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) and a new trial, both of which the district court denied.

The district court adopted Caltech’s proposed two-tier damages theory, explaining that Broadcom and Apple’s products were different and therefore possessed different values simply because they were “different companies at different levels in the supply chain.” The district court ultimately entered judgment against Broadcom for $288 million and against Apple for $885 million. Broadcom and Apple appealed.

The Appeal

Broadcom and Apple argued that the district court’s construction of “repeat” was inconsistent with the claim language and specification. The Federal Circuit [...]

Continue Reading




Can’t Overturn Jury Verdicts Based on Reasonable Inferences, but Broad Injunction Is Nonstarter Even for Willfully Misappropriated Trade Secrets

In a rare appellate trade secret opinion, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of a defendant’s request for a new trial on liability and its refusal of the plaintiff’s requested injunction. It also reversed in part the district court’s denial of judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) on damages for clear error because the plaintiff failed to deduct marginal costs when calculating lost profits. Financial Information Technologies v. iControl Systems, Case No. 20-13368 (11th Cir. Dec. 22, 2021) (Jordan, Newsom, JJ., and Burke, Distr J.).

Competitors Financial Information Technologies (Fintech) and iControl Systems both sell software that processes alcohol sales invoices within 24 hours. Fintech was a lone operator for several years until iControl started servicing the alcohol industry and began selling a very similar product at a lower price point. After Fintech lost its vice president of operations (who was very involved in designing Fintech’s software), a sales representative and several customers to iControl, Fintech filed suit alleging misappropriation of trade secrets. The jury ruled in Fintech’s favor and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. iControl sought a new trial on liability, contending that Fintech’s alleged trade secrets were readily ascertainable and not “secret,” and JMOL on damages since Fintech hadn’t proved lost profits because it hadn’t deducted fixed and marginal costs from its lost revenue calculations. Fintech sought a permanent injunction prohibiting iControl from using either company’s software. The district court denied all three motions, and both parties appealed.

As to the jury verdict, the Eleventh Circuit noted that jury liability findings are generally difficult to overturn, and that the verdict was general and nonspecific regarding which of the seven alleged trade secrets iControl had misappropriated, so Fintech only needed to show evidence under the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act (FUTSA) of misappropriation as to one. iControl also did not move for JMOL on liability, and therefore, under the abuse-of-discretion standard of review, the Court could only overturn if “there is an absolute absence of evidence to support the verdict.” However, the Court found that Fintech and its witness presented sufficient evidence at trial to permit a reasonable jury to find that Fintech possessed at least one of the seven alleged trade secrets and that it was misappropriated. The evidence included emails indicating that its former vice president helped iControl discover Fintech’s internal processes to aid software developments, assisted iControl’s chief technology officer in troubleshooting issues in a manner similar to Fintech, shared screenshots of Fintech’s user portal and prompted customers to switch to iControl.

Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit found that the jury reasonably could have inferred from the evidence that iControl schemed to hire Fintech employees to misappropriate Fintech’s software features—an act that demonstrated willfulness.

After assessing the meanings of fixed and marginal costs and the properly fact-intensive revenue and profits figures of the businesses, the Eleventh Circuit agreed that the jury was not required to deduct Fintech’s fixed costs from its revenues to arrive at a proper “actual [...]

Continue Reading




BLOG EDITORS

STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES