Trade secrets are the lifeblood of many companies these days, and protecting those secrets is always of the utmost importance. Through our years of experience advising and representing companies, we here at Lubin Austermuehle know how to maintain the security of your trade-secret portfolio and prosecute those who attempt to misappropriate any of your trade secrets. Because employees with trade-secret knowledge come and go with such frequency these days, our Des Plaines trade-secret attorneys wanted to share a recent court decision that illustrates the perils companies face due to departing employees.
In Mintel International Group LTD v. Neergheen, Plaintiff Mintel initially employed Defendant in its London-based marketing department, and upon his hiring, Defendant signed an employment contract that included non-compete and confidentiality restrictive covenants. Defendant was then transferred to Plaintiff’s Chicago office where he signed a second employment contract containing non-compete and confidentiality clauses similar to those in the first agreement. This second contract also contained a clause prohibiting the solicitation of Plaintiff’s employees and customers – all of the clauses were in effect for one year after the cessation his employment with Plaintiff. Defendant eventually left the employ of Plaintiff and began working for a competitor company in a different product area in order to comply with his non-compete. Plaintiff failed to ask Defendant to return the laptop given to him by the company during his exit interview, and also failed to ask him about proprietary information he had emailed to himself prior to his departure – despite knowing that he had taken possession of the information before he left.
Eventually, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA), and breach of the non-disclosure, non-compete, and non-solicitation provisions in his employment contract with Defendant. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief and money damages. After a bench trial, the Court found that Defendant had not violated the CFAA because he had only emailed copies of Plaintiff’s files to a private email address, which did not satisfy the damage requirement of the statute. The Court next held that, while the copied files qualified as trade secrets, Defendant did not violate the ITSA because there was no proof that he had or would use the information in his position at a competing company. Finally, the Court found that the restrictive covenants were not invalid as a matter of law, and enjoined Defendant from: ever using any of Plaintiff’s proprietary info, contacting any of Plaintiff’s customers for nine months, or working for his new employer in the same area as he had with Plaintiff for a period of six months.
Lubin Austermuehle is a full-service litigation firm based in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois that concentrates in handling all of the legal issues confronting businesses in today’s world. We represent both plaintiffs and defendants, and we have experience representing clients in matters ranging from qui tam actions to trade secret litigation. Our attorneys have over two and half decades of experience in business litigation and have won favorable verdicts in “bet the business” lawsuits. We will use our considerable resources and knowledge to formulate a plan of action that will help further your interests, resolve your problems, and get you back to growing your business. Our focus with each client is to resolve the legal issues efficiently and with minimal costs, while still providing outstanding representation. If your business is being sued or you are seeking advice to stay out of court, call our Chicago business lawyers to discuss what Lubin Austermuehle can do for you. For a consultation, call 630-333-0333 or send us an email through our website.