Articles Posted in Trade Secrets

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Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

As if the idea of a monkey (a “crested macaque,” to be precise) taking a perfect selfie wasn’t strange enough, the lawsuit that followed is.

In 2011, David Slater, a British nature photographer, was taking pictures of the wildlife on the Tangkoko reserve in Indonesia when a monkey by the name of Naruto managed to get Slater’s camera away from him. Naruto took several pictures before Slater managed to get his camera back and one of those pictures turned out to be a perfect selfie – Naruto even smiled and looked right at the camera as he snapped a picture of himself.

Later on, Slater published a book that included some of the pictures Naruto had taken, which had been dubbed “monkey selfies.” That’s when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got involved.

PETA sued Slater on behalf of Naruto, trying to claim that, because Naruto had taken the picture, Naruto owned the copyright to that photo. By publishing those photos, Slater had allegedly violated Naruto’s copyright, according to PETA’s lawsuit.

A federal district judge in San Francisco dismissed PETA’s claims in early 2016, saying that, since Naruto was not a person, he could neither own a copyright. Continue reading

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The world of intellectual property and protection of rights often requires complex filings with governmental offices and high costs are to be attached with the process.  The world of the internet has meant that a product launched, quickly catches on and can be easily copied and done at a fast rate.  Trade Secrets are offered great protection and do not have an expiration date. Trade secrets depend on whether reasonable measures have been made to keep the information a secret and if economic value is able to be derived.  It extends to include financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information.  This can consist of patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible.

Normally you can look up a good recipe or ask a friend for some cooking tips.  However, not all recipes can be so easily shared.  Recipes used for cooking purposes can also be confidential information, in terms of a secret formula for people when it becomes a form of profit!  A recent case involved the production of jam and a recipe violation which came at a high price.  The case involved two different fig spreads where one company, Dalmatia, had a recipe protected by trade secrets.  It utilized another company, Foodmatch, for its distribution and manufacturing.  Unhappy with the quality of product that was being produced, they decided to engage in the services of someone else.  Shortly thereafter, Foodmatch came out with a fig spread of its own by the name of Divinia.  Of course, a court battle had to ensue.  The facts of the case highlight the issues involved with disclosing trade secrets to vendors or distributors. Dalmatia argued that these actions were in violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016.  It was the seller of the leading fig jam in the USA, it had every desire to want to fight for their rights. In the first of its kind, and under the new law and before a jury, this case was going to test waters. Continue reading

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Uber settled its legal fight after being accused of plotting to steal self-driving technology, which is considered to be the way of the future. It took more than four days in court, which included arguments and testimony. An overall case worth stood at $245 million.  The settlement was mainly concerning the trade secrets. The case was between Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and could be considered one of the most intense legal fights of Silicon Valley. This is especially since it concerns a startup vs. one of the biggest technology giants’ parent. The overall potential of the industry is trillion-dollars that are predicted to transform transportation.

The case showcased what many in Silicon Valley normally struggle with: the sudden rise of start-ups, the workings of the rich companies, the rivalries, and competition for talent.  Continue reading

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The already expensive battle to acquire engineers with knowledge and experience in the field of self-driving cars just cost Uber another estimated $245 million, not including the money they spent defending their legal battle against Waymo for a year before the parties agreed on a settlement.

As engineers get closer to developing the technology necessary to produce viable self-driving automobiles, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, not only is self-driving technology the future, it is going to be a very lucrative future. It has driven up the costs of engineers in the field to unprecedented heights, but Uber may have topped them all by spending $590 million to buy an entire self-driving truck company from Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer. The terms of the agreement were for Levandowski to receive an additional $250 million in Uber stock if Otto reached certain performance goals, but before that could happen, Levandowski was fired from Uber for refusing to cooperate in the investigation into the alleged stolen Google files.

Levandowski and Travis Kalanick, the founder and former CEO of Uber, had allegedly been hanging out and brainstorming ideas for self-driving technology even when Levandowski was still working for Google. Kalanick recently testified in court that he had wanted to hire Levandowski, but Levandowski wanted to break out on his own. Continue reading

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There’s nothing illegal about a high-level employee moving from one company to a competing company (especially in California, which bans non-compete agreements). But businesses do still have the right to protect their trade secrets and legitimate business interests in the form of confidential information, especially when it comes to experimental technology.

So although Anthony Levandowski was perfectly within his rights to quit his position developing self-driving technology at Waymo (a division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet) to go work for Uber to develop similar technology, that’s not what Levandowski wanted to do, according to Travis Kalanick’s testimony in a recent corporate lawsuit.

Kalanick, the founder and former CEO of Uber, recently testified in court that he regularly hosted what he called a “jam sesh” at his home. He would invite other Uber executives to his house and they would brainstorm business ideas together. Kalanick testified that Levandowski would sometimes attend these jam sessions while he was still employed by Google. Kalanick said he had wanted to hire Levandowski, but Levandowski wanted to break out on his own and form his own company. Kalanick then came up with a solution in which he could get Levandowski to work for him while still allowing Levandowski to feel as though he had the freedom he wanted. Continue reading

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The line between inspiration and theft continues to be blurry in the world of music, and as it turns out, Lana Del Rey is not exempt from copyright claims arising from those fuzzy definitions.

The latest controversy revolves around Del Rey’s new song, “Get Free,” which is featured on her “Lust for Life” album. According to Warner/Chappell, the music publisher for the band Radiohead, “Get Free” sounds enough like Radiohead’s song, “Creep,” which was a hit in 1993, that the songwriters of “Creep” allegedly deserve at least partial credit for “Get Free,” as well as a percentage of the song’s royalties.

What makes this dispute different is the lack of consensus as to whether a copyright lawsuit actually exists.

On January 7th, Del Rey posted a tweet saying that Radiohead’s song was not an inspiration for her own hit, but that the band continued to demand 100% of the song’s royalties. Del Rey said she had offered as much as 40% of the song’s royalties in negotiations that had lasted a few months, but that Radiohead’s attorneys refused to accept anything less than 100%. Del Rey concluded the tweet by saying they would settle the dispute in court. Continue reading

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An important ingredient in an allegation of stealing trade secrets is that you must be able to prove you suffered financially as a result of the alleged theft. With technology changing as quickly as it is these days, it’s important for anyone thinking about suing over misappropriated software to consider how much the technology is really worth.

According to a jury, attorney Peter Francis Geraci failed to account for these two factors before filing his lawsuit against another attorney, Thomas G. Macey, and a computer coder, R. William Amidon.

Amidon had created GapC for Geraci’s law firm, Geraci Law, LLC. According to the federal trade secrets lawsuit, Amidon allegedly stole Geraci’s proprietary software and gave it to Macey, a competitor of Geraci Law, LLC. Macey then allegedly used the stolen software to create a similar program for his own law firm, Legal Helpers P.C., which has since gone out of business.

Geraci used GapC from 1996 to 2006, at which point he switched to a different software to perform the same function. He sued Amidon and Macey for $30 million, although U.S. District Judge Manish S. Shah capped the possible damages awards at just over $2 million before sending the jury off to make their decision.

Amidon and his attorneys argued that, not only was the software not proprietary, but that it was already out of date when he wrote it. Continue reading

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The battle to be the first self-driving car company has a new twist.

Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets pertaining to its self-driving technology was supposed to go to trial earlier this month, but has been delayed as a result of new evidence against Uber.

While the two ride-hailing companies were preparing their cases and getting ready to argue their sides before a jury, Judge William Alsup had ordered an investigation into Uber by the Department of Justice (DOJ) – an investigation which recently turned up a letter that has the potential to do serious damage to Uber’s case.

The letter was written by an attorney representing Richard Jacobs, who used to work for Uber as part of their Marketplace Analytics (MA) team. According to the letter, which Jacobs approved at the time, it was sent, Uber allegedly used its MA team for the sole purpose of stealing trade secrets from Waymo, and possibly other competitors as well.

The DOJ also found that Uber had actively taken steps to hide this information from the court and other legal professionals.

The letter was part of a lawsuit between Jacobs and Uber, which has since been settled. When questioned about the letter on the stand, Jacobs denied parts of it, saying he reviewed the letter in haste when he was on vacation. Jacobs denied that Uber’s MA group existed in order to steal trade secrets, or that Waymo was a target, but he did confirm that Uber took steps to protect sensitive information and eliminate the possibility of a paper trail that might work against them later. Continue reading

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Being wise about knowing which clauses to include in a contract will help you in the long run.  This is for reason being that a contract that is not enforceable on some level could run the risks of becoming void and unenforceable.  In turn, that can cost business and profit.  The basic principles of materiality can change from year to year.  An awareness in advance can save.  We are here to help with the following list:

1. Non compete agreements are enforceable to the extent that a business interest is protected.

This has always been at the core of non compete interests.  Having been at the core, means it has also been subject to scrutiny.  There are plenty of court decisions that have considered this more closely which includes the fairness test as espoused in the case of  White v. Mederi Caretenders Visiting Services of Southeast Florida, LLC, Case No. SC16-28 (Fla. Sup. Ct., Sep. 14, 2017).  Is what the employer seeking to protect its investment or is it making it unfair for the employee to use information, relationships or resources that they acquired while employed by a former employer?  That is the question and agreements will be assessed on the management of their exploitative nature. 

2. Forum selection clauses are usually enforceable across the country.

Clauses that choose not to enforce another state’s law are generally enforceable unless the violation of public policy is at stake.  In the case of  Stone Surgical, LLC v. Stryker Corp., Case No. 16-1434 (6th Cir., May 24, 2017), an employee was subject to a non compete with Michigan choice of law and forum clause.  Enforceability of such clauses was challenged when that employee transitioned to work with a competitor of the other jurisdictional state of Louisiana.   It was noted on appeal at the federal level that Michigan law would favor such clauses. Continue reading

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Advertising name-brand products that don’t actually have anything to do with the brand being named is called false advertising. It’s illegal, not only because it causes potential harm to the brand whose name is being abused, but to consumers who are misled as a direct result of the false advertising.

Costco has allegedly been selling diamond engagement rings that were marked “Tiffany” rings, and Costco salespeople allegedly told customers the rings were “Tiffany” rings. Although the wholesale retailer has never sold jewelry from the famous Tiffany & Co., and has never used the company’s trademark blue boxes, the wholesale company does sell diamond rings with a pronged setting, which it claims is commonly known as a “Tiffany” setting.

The problem was that Costco did not call them “Tiffany setting” rings or “Tiffany-style” rings. It just called them “Tiffany” rings, which understandably led to some confusion.

Despite the fact that customers got upset when they realized the rings labeled “Tiffany” were not actually from the famous jewelry store, Costco allegedly still did not see a problem with how they were marketing their generic diamond engagement rings. Tiffany & Co. disagreed and sued the wholesale company for trademark infringement. Continue reading