Articles Posted in Trade Secrets

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There’s no doubt that self-driving cars will be the next big thing in the automobile industry, which is why Google got so upset when a former employee allegedly took trade secrets regarding their self-driving technology to a competitor.

Anthony Levandowski claims he has been working on technology for driverless automobiles since he was in college. He entered a self-driving motorcycle into the Pentagon’s first competition for driverless vehicles in 2004, when he was still a graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley.

In 2007, Levandowski started working for Google on their maps program. When Google gave the go-ahead to start experimenting with self-driving automobiles, Levandowski was one of the first people chosen for the team.

Levandowski left Google early in 2016 to start his own business, a driverless truck company named Otto. That company was bought by Uber, at which point Levandowski became the vice president in charge of Uber’s driverless vehicle project. Continue reading

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While there are many people who dream of becoming an internationally renowned singer/songwriter, the position does have its drawbacks. For starters, many of them don’t own the rights to their own songs for their most lucrative years, and even when the songs’ copyrights have ended, many songwriters still have trouble regaining rights to the music they created.

For example, Sir Paul McCartney, writer and cowriter of some of the most successful songs of all time (including “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”) is currently suing Sony/ATV for allegedly refusing to give up the rights to his songs.

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, authors and creators are allowed to reclaim the rights to their art from publishers after a certain amount of time has passed. Since that amount of time has expired for many of the Beatles’ timeless songs, McCartney should be able to reclaim ownership of his songs, but Sony/ATV has decided to put up a fight. Continue reading

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Some companies will do anything to get their hands on valuable trade secrets from their competitors. According to Olaplex, a startup based in California, L’Oréal allegedly tried everything from poaching employees to allegedly offering to acquire the company in order to gain access to allegedly sensitive, privileged and secret information. What was at stake was a alleged secret formula designed to protect hair from damage during the dyeing process.

Starting around the middle of 2015, L’Oréal allegedly tried to hire Olaplex employees it thought were responsible for creating the revolutionary product. When that didn’t work, L’Oréal allegedly approached Olaplex about possibly acquiring the company.

As a direct result of talks between the two companies to negotiate the terms under which the French-based company might acquire the U.S.-based company, L’Oréal was allegedly given access to confidential and proprietary information that had not yet been made available to the public, including an unpublished application for a patent on a product designed to allow customers to dye their hair without causing damage. Continue reading

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Before now, if an organization had its trade secrets stolen, its only recourse was usually to bring an action against the perpetrator in state court under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which was adopted by most states to provide a uniform civil remedy for trade secret theft, or under state criminal laws. The only federal protection for trade secrets was criminal sanction under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. That changed this May, when President Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which gives owners of trade secrets a new federal civil cause of action for misappropriation of their proprietary information. The law is intended to provide an alternative to the current patchwork of state laws governing the issue, but not replace them; unlike the federal Copyright Act, for instance, DTSA does not pre-empt state law.

DTSA allows a plaintiff to seek relief in federal court for misappropriation of trade secrets “by improper means” related to a product or service in interstate or foreign commerce. Improper means is defined as theft, robbery, misrepresentation, espionage, or breach of a duty to maintain secrecy. The law establishes civil remedies such as injunctions and damages for actual loss and unjust enrichment, or a “reasonable” royalty where an injunction is not feasible. If a trade secret is “willfully or maliciously” misappropriated, damages may be doubled. Trade secrets are broadly defined to include all forms and types of information that the owner has taken reasonable measures to keep secret, and which derive independent, actual or potential economic value from being unknown to the public. Continue reading

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Paramount Pictures holds the copyright to Klingon, spoken by some characters in “Star Trek.” A group called the Language Creation Society says that’s not right. The Hollywood Reporter says the group sued saying Klingon is a real language, Paramount can’t copyright it any more than it could English or Chinese. Paramount has been forced to defend itself by arguing that Klingon is fake and therefore in reality useless.

Super Lawyers named Illinois business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Illinois business trial lawyers have over a quarter of century of experience in litigating complex class action, copyright, non-compete agreement, trademark and libel suits, consumer rights and many different types of business and commercial litigation disputes.  Our Roselle and Addison business dispute lawyers handle emergency business law suits involving copyrights, trademarks, injunctions, and TROS, covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud. You can contact us by calling (630) 333-0000 or our toll free number (877) 990-4990.  You can also contact us online here.

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We help our clients solve copyright issues and business dispute problems through negotiations, litigation or mediation.

 

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Trade Secrets: Buckley v. Abuzir, 2014 IL App (1st) 130469

“You’re Hired: Now Hand Over the Goods”

In addition to potential tax advantages, the principal reason to create a corporation is limited personal liability, which means that the debts and liabilities of the corporation are distinct from those of its shareholders. However, in certain circumstances, courts are empowered to ‘pierce the corporate veil’ and impose personal liability on the officers and potentially even the shareholders of a corporation if there has been gross undercapitalization of the corporation, or if corporate funds have been improperly comingled with non-corporate funds, or if it finds that a ‘sham’ corporation has been designed to improperly shield the individual directors or shareholders from personal liability.

What if, in order to obtain proprietary information, an employer created a sham corporation, hired you as an employee, and then claimed your former business’s lifeblood — all its proprietary trade secrets? That is what is alleged in the April 2014 Illinois appellate case, Buckley v. Abuzir, 2014 IL App (1st) 130469. Continue reading

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After a woman filed suit against a fundraising company for alleged payroll violations, the company brought counterclaims against her, including a claim for alleged breach of a covenant not to compete. Fields v. QSP, Inc. (Fields 2), No. CV 12-1238 CAS (PJWx), opinion (C.D. Cal., Jun. 4, 2012). The plaintiff filed the lawsuit as a putative class action on behalf of employees subjected to employment practices that allegedly violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and various California statutes. After hearing several competing motions for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings, the court dismissed some of the plaintiff’s employment law claims and retained others. It also ruled that the covenant not to compete in the plaintiff’s employment contract was unenforceable under California law.

The defendant, QSP, Inc., serves a nationwide clientele of youth organizations and schools. It employed the plaintiff from 1999 to 2010, primarily as a “Sales and Service Specialist.” Her job involved researching and contacting potential clients, assisting “field sales managers” (FSMs), and maintaining a database (the “QSP Database”) of current and prospective school customers. A covenant not to compete in her employment contract stated that she may not contact fundraising organizations that she “solicited or serviced during [her] employment by QSP” for a period of twelve months. Fields 2 at 12. QSP alleged that the plaintiff did not delete the QSP Database from her computer when her employment ended, and used the database to provide services to QSP’s competitors.

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An Indiana federal district court ruled, in CDW, LLC, et al v. NETech Corporation, that neither a parent company nor one of its subsidiaries may sue to enforce the employment contracts of another of its subsidiaries, when one subsidiary is clearly the party to the agreement. The dispute involved covenants of noncompetition in a company’s employment contract and a claim for tortious interference with a business contract.

Berbee Information Networks Corporation employed several individuals as sales executives. These three individuals signed employment contracts that included a paragraph stating that they agreed, upon termination of their employment with Berbee, not to accept employment in direct competition with Berbee for up to twelve months. “Competition” included solicitation of Berbee employees or clients and use of Berbee’s proprietary business information. In September 2006, Berbee became a subsidiary of CDW, LLC when CDW purchased it and merged it with another subsidiary. Berbee, all parties to the eventual lawsuit agreed, was the surviving corporation of the merger.

CDW operated several subsidiaries that, like Berbee, engaged in the business of technology sales. Each subsidiary served a different market, such as commercial businesses, nonprofits, or government agencies. CDW transferred the three Berbee employees at the center of the dispute to another subsidiary, CDW Direct, between 2008 and 2009. These employees all left CDW Direct at different times to work for NETech Corporation. They each received letters after commencing work at NETech from an attorney for CDW alleging that they were in violation of their noncompetition agreement, demanding that they cease work for NETech and return all confidential materials obtained from Berbee or CDW.

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After hiring someone, businesses expect not only that their new employee will perform his job adequately, but also that he will do no harm to the company or its ability to do business. Employers know that their expectations are not always met by those employees, which is why the use of employment contracts with non-compete clauses are quite common these days. Our Chicago restrictive covenant attorneys just discovered a recent court decision that details a dispute between an employer and an ex-employee regarding one such employment agreement.

In Zep Inc. v. First Aid Corp., Plaintiff Zep employed the individual Defendants as sales representatives for its industrial cleaning products business pursuant to an employment agreement that contained non-disclosure, non-solicitation, and non-compete provisions. During their employment, Defendants had access to Plaintiff’s customer lists, supplier lists, pricing information, and other proprietary information. Eventually, a competitor, Defendant First Aid, hired the other named Defendants away from Plaintiff and subsequently solicited Plaintiffs clients and other employees.

As a result, Plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA), and tortious interference with contract. Plaintiff contends that First Aid induced the other Defendants to breach the employment agreements they signed with Plaintiff and that the other Defendants used and disclosed Plaintiffs trade secrets. In response, Defendants filed motions to dismiss the claims, which were granted as to three of the individual defendants due to a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court found that because three of the individual Defendants were residents of Michigan and Ohio, Plaintiff is located in Georgia, and the employment agreements were signed outside of Illinois, they did not have the requisite minimum contacts to give an Illinois court jurisdiction over the matter. Furthermore, Plaintiff had not alleged that any of Defendants’ actions were aimed at Illinois, and neither had their actions caused harm to Plaintiff in Illinois, so specific personal jurisdiction was also improper. The Court denied the remaining motions to dismiss – finding that the non-compete provisions were enforceable because the geographic limitations were reasonable and the non-solicitation clause was limited in scope to Plaintiff’s competitors for a span of one year. Plaintiff’s allegations were also found to be sufficient to support a claim under the ITSA because it had identified a list of confidential information and trade secrets in its pleadings.

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