Articles Posted in Trade Secrets

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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

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In a case of “idea theft,” film industry defendants who argued the right to free speech protected them against a claim of stealing a screenplay that was later made into “The Purge” films were recently slapped down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Jordan-Benel v. Universal City Studios Inc., et al., No. 15-56045 (9th Cir., 2017).

In 2011, screenwriter Douglas J. penned a screenplay entitled “Settler’s Day,” depicting a futuristic landscape of lawlessness and chaos, which he registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Douglas’s agent submitted the screenplay to persons at United Talent Agency (UTA). After saying it would pass on the screenplay, UTA forwarded it to other clients of UTA, who allegedly adapted it into “The Purge.” The film and its sequel were released in 2013 and 2014, produced by Universal City Studios and four other production companies.

In 2015, Douglas filed a complaint for copyright infringement against UTA and the production company defendants, claiming breach of an implied-in-fact contract based on defendants’ implied agreement to compensate and credit him as a writer/creator should his idea be used. He alleged that defendants breached this agreement by using and profiting from his ideas without compensation or credit, seeking declaratory relief. Continue reading

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Since 1975, the ratio of intangible assets (ideas, copyright, intellectual property, etc.) to tangible assets (physical property) in the S&P 500 market value has increased dramatically. In 1975, intangible assets made up just 17% of the market value and have done nothing but increase, reaching 87% in 2015.

As of May 22, 2016, a new federal trade secrets law known as the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) went into effect and Illinois employers need to be prepared.

Although it’s a federal law that places higher restrictions on protecting intellectual property, it does not block state or local laws, such as the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA). That means an Illinois employer can file a federal DTSA lawsuit and a simultaneous ITSA lawsuit, which means, even if the federal lawsuit doesn’t go their way, they may still be able to collect damages and/or awards under the ITSA.

Alternatively, businesses can sue under the ITSA if the statue of limitations under the DTSA has expired. Under the DTSA, a lawsuit must be filed within three years of the discovery of the transgression, but the ITSA allows up to five years. Continue reading

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With the economy still unsteady after the recession, more and more people are attracted to the idea of starting their own business. But one of the biggest challenges when doing that is making sure you have something unique to offer the market.

For people who have spent most of their career working at one company, that’s often all they know. If they’re going to try to branch off on their own, they’d better make sure their new operation is significantly different from their employer’s, or at least has a new approach to the industry. Either way, it’s important to note that just copying and pasting your employer’s business is not only unethical – it’s illegal.

According to officials, David Newman, a 34-year-old trader who worked in Chicago, stole more than 400,000 electronic files from his employer. Those files contained all of WH Trading LLC’s proprietary computer code and trading software. Continue reading

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In Silicon Valley, the heart of the technology industry, a company’s greatest asset is its talent. Their brains and the information they have access to are priceless, which is why, for many tech companies, it is imperative for them not to allow their employees to take such invaluable information directly to a competitor. It’s also why Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, is suing Uber and one of Google’s former employees for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

According to Waymo, Anthony Levandowski, who was working on Google’s self-driving vehicle technology, left the company last year after allegedly stealing 14,000 documents containing trade secrets. Levandowski then started his own self-driving truck company, called Otto, which he sold to Uber earlier this year. Levandowski is now working as the head of Uber’s self-driving department, although Uber and Levandowski claim their technology bears no resemblance to Waymo’s self-driving technology. Continue reading

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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