So what is a trade secret? Generally, a trade secret is information that the owner has taken reasonable measures to keep secret, derives independent economic value from not being generally known, and cannot be readily ascertainable by proper means, such as reverse engineering or independent development. Many businesses rely on trade secret protection rather than
Companies and employers around the country seek to protect their intellectual property by, among other things, using non-compete provisions in employment agreements. Generally, these provisions are intended to prevent an employee from soliciting or doing business with a former employer’s customer/clients over a set period of time and/or in regard to a set geographical area. Under California law, and specifically Business and Professions Code section 16600, such provisions are unenforceable unless they fall within one of the statutory exceptions, i.e., primarily in connection with the sale of a business interest. For years, although California state courts would refuse to enforce such provisions under section 16600, federal courts in California sometimes applied a narrow court-created exception and allow such provisions to be enforced provided that they were narrowly tailored as to time and geographical area. In 2008, the California Supreme Court unequivocally ruled that such provisions were unenforceable under section 16600 and rejected the “narrowly restricted” exception used by federal courts. (See Edwards v. Arthur Andersen, LP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008).)
In response to the Edwards decision, many California companies and employers began to omit such provisions from their new employment agreements or re-write them with specific language restricting an employee from using trade secret information to unfairly compete. However, other companies and employers left their old agreements untouched and in place thinking merely that they would not enforce them should the need arise. A recent court decision, Couch v. Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc. (E.D. Cal. Aug. 7, 2015), reveals the risk an employer or company faces in failing to update their older employment agreements to remove or revise such provisions.
In the bustling craft brew economy brewers are faced with new issues every day. One that recently came to my attention arises when the craft brewery’s brewmaster or head brewer decides to either start his own craft brewery, or go to work for another brewery. While this may not initially seem like a big deal, it gets much more complicated when that brewmaster or brewer is responsible for the creation of your flagship brew. The question arises: who owns the intellectual property rights to that brew? Of course, the brewery is going to say that they have been selling, distributing, and promoting the brew, so it must be theirs. On the other hand, the brewer is going to say that he created it, so it must be his. The truth is that determining who owns the intellectual property rights to the brew formula can get quite complicated, encompassing numerous factors. But it does not have to be.
With a booming industry such as craft brew, it is imperative that the appropriate precautions be taken to protect the craft brewery’s most lucrative asset: the beer itself. In order to protect a brew formula from being taken from your company and utilized by a competitor when one of your brewers, the creator of the formula or not, leaves the company, the formula must be treated as a trade secret. The California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”) defines a trade secret as:
information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, or technique, or process, that:
(1) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public, or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and
(2) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.
Victims of trade secret theft often can seek a variety of civil and criminal remedies against those who have absconded with proprietary information. The Ninth Circuit however recently rejected criminal charges in a situation where the claims could be addressed as a civil matter under California’s trade secret laws.
In United States v. Nosal, David Nosal was sued by his former employer, the Korn/Ferry executive search and placement firm. After leaving Korn/Ferry, Mr. Nosal contacted several former colleagues who were still working with the company and asked them for assistance with his efforts to set up a competing business. Mr. Nosal’s former co-workers had access to a significant amount of proprietary information on the Korn/Ferry computer system, and assisted Mr. Nosal by using this access in order to provide names, contact information, and other confidential data from Korn/Ferry’s proprietary database to Mr. Nosal. Although their access to the database was authorized, the employees provided information to Mr. Nosal in violation of a trade secret and nondisclosure agreement with their employer.…
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Limits Application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
By: James Kachmar
A recent decision in the case Jobscience, Inc. v. CVPartners, Inc. (N.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2014) shows the interplay between the various theories of intellectual property claims. There, the plaintiff asserted claims for both copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation arising out of the alleged theft of its software code. The court was required to deal with the issue of whether plaintiff’s trade secret claim was preempted by its claim for copyright infringement.
Jobscience develops and licenses recruiting software applications, including its JS 2 Jobscience Recruiting Package. In 2010, Jobscience entered into a master agreement with defendant CVPartners that contained an End User License and Agreement, which provided the defendant with a license to use plaintiff’s job recruiting software application. The license was renewed in 2011.