AFA Dispensing Group B.V. and Dispensing Technology (collectively “plaintiffs”) have brought suit against Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A., Anheuser-Busch InBev Worldwide, Inc. and Anheuser-Busch, LLC (collectively “defendants”), claiming violation of the Missouri Uniform Trade Secrets Act, as well as Breach of Contract. The basis of the claim is plaintiffs’ allege trade secret in a “Confidential Dispensing Technolog[y]” dubbed a “‘bag-in-bottle’ dispensing system.”
According to the Complaint, the parties had engaged in preliminary talks for defendants to license the technology. During these talks, plaintiffs took extensive efforts to alert defendants that the dispensing technology in question was a confidential trade secret. At some point, defendants broke-off negotiations, and proceeded to patent plaintiffs’ confidential bag-in-bottle technology, which it eventually marketed under the name “Draftmark.” Moreover, plaintiffs allege that this was not the first time that defendants engaged in such inscrutable behavior; a high-ranking executive at defendants’ company allegedly bragged about stealing other companies intellectual property, using vulgar and obscene metaphors to describe its actions.
This situation — in which confidential information is misappropriated through licensing negotiations — is not uncommon, and often hinges upon the specific facts of the case, the precautions taken by the trade secret holder, and the relative industry standards. Since this claim is based in Missouri (a state with a Uniform Trade Secrets Act), plaintiffs will not have to prove the trade secret was “continuously used” in its business, which is required under the Restatement of Torts definition for a trade secret. The requirement can be an obstacle for companies that bring trade secret claims based on the misappropriation of a new product idea. However, given that the design would have lost secrecy as soon as it was sold to the public at large (or patented), it will be interesting to see how the court levies damages, assuming plaintiffs succeed on their claim.