Cases from 2nd Circuit

United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
Oil Company Files Federal Lawsuit After Former Employee Takes Position at Competitor

Maxum Petroleum (“Plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit in federal court for misappropriation of trade secrets under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and Connecticut’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The complaint alleges that defendant Stephen Hiatt (“Hiatt”), a former employee, wrongfully accepted a position with a competing company that would inevitably cause him to disclose insider knowledge about Plaintiff.

Plaintiff is an oil company. Stephen Hiatt worked as the Vice President of Sales for Plaintiff’s energy department for 25 years. According to Plaintiff’s complaint, Hiatt agreed not to take a position with a competitor that would require him to share information about Plaintiff’s pricing and customers. Hiatt stopped working for Plaintiff on August 31 and took a position with Chemoil, a competing company, last week. Plaintiff learned about Hiatt’s new position through email.

Plaintiff contends that by accepting the position at Chemoil, Hiatt misappropriated trade secrets under the DTSA, the Connecticut Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and brought claims for breach of contract and a violation of the Connecticut’s Uniform Trade Practices Act. Plaintiff filed the suit in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

A copy of Plaintiff's complaint can be found here:
http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/maxum-petroleum-inc-v-hiatt-et-al/filings/oil-company-files-federal-lawsuit-after-former-emplo

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Second Circuit Affirms Conviction in United States v. Agrawal

On August 1, 2013, the Second Circuit upheld Samarth Agrawal's 2010 conviction under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA). Agrawal, who had been employed as a trader by the French bank Société Générale (SocGen), was charged with delivering SocGen's High Frequency Trading (HFT) system's source code to a rival hedge fund, New York-based Tower Research Capital. On November 19, 2010, a jury found Agrawal guilty on two counts: theft of trade secrets (18 U.S.C. § 1832); and interstate transportation of stolen property (18 U.S.C. § 2314). He was subsequently sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment, which he is presently serving.

The affirmation was particularly noteworthy considering that just last year, the Second Circuit reversed a conviction in a case with strikingly similar facts. In United States v. Aleynikov, a programmer sold source code to Goldman Sachs' HFT platform to a rival trading firm. United States v. Aleynikov, 676 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2012). The Second Circuit distinguished Agrawal from Aleynikov in two ways. First, the court noted that the HFT system in Agrawal was used in interstate commerce, where the HFT system in Aleynikov was not. Second the court noted that where Aleynikov had stolen the HFT source code in intangible form (on a USB memory stick), Agrawal had printed out the code on paper.

In dissent, Judge Pooler took issue with these distinctions, writing, "In order to circumvent Aleynikov, decided just months prior to oral argument in this case, the majority attempts to distinguish the present facts through mischaracterizations, while simultaneously stretching Aleynikov and disregarding the principle of stare decisis."

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
In a fight over ownership of the Pepsi cola formula, heirs of formula creator seek to disclose documents regarding creation of formula

The heirs of Richard Ritchie, who created the Pepsi® cola formula in 1931, filed a declaratory judgment in the District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 3, 2012, requesting the court to declare that the documents relating to the creation of the soda formula are the Ritchie heirs’ personal property, which the heirs may publicly share. PepsiCo, Inc. (“Pepsi”) counters that the documents are the company’s trade secrets but the heirs argue in response that Pepsi has no claim for trade secrets misappropriation. Ritchie allegedly developed the Pepsi formula while working for a separate candy company and was not a Pepsi employee until 1939. He left Pepsi in 1951 and signed an agreement which only prohibited him from disclosing the formula to a competing beverage company but it did not cover his heirs’ use of the formula and did not require him to return the formula documents. Alternatively, even if the formula was Pepsi’s trade secret, the heirs argue that they have a First Amendment journalistic right to disclose the “historically significant, newsworthy” documents.

While the parties are currently in mediation, and by request of the court Silleck requested leave until September 28, 2012 to file an amended complaint.

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
After battling a rival video-game developer for over two years in Korea, NCSoft now brings the fight to U.S. courts

Having launched a criminal investigation and a civil litigation in the Republic of Korea, NCSoft Corporation and NC Interactive, Inc. (collectively, “NCSoft”) now bring their court battle against rival, Bluehole Studio, Inc. (“Bluehole”) and its U.S. subsidiary, En Masse Entertainment, Inc., to the Southern District of New York. NCSoft alleges that the founders of Bluehole Studio—former employees of NCSoft—took “copious amounts” of confidential and proprietary NCSoft information, computer software, hardware and artwork relating to a popular “massive multiplayer online role-playing game” (“MMORPG”), Lineage 3. NCSoft continues to state in its complaint that the former employees planned to create a competing product using the same work they did for developing Lineage 3 while at NCSoft.

In 2009 the former employees were convicted by a Korean criminal court for the theft of valuable trade secrets from NCSoft and the convictions were upheld in part by the appellate court. A year later, a Korean civil court held that the same employees misappropriated NCSoft’s trade secrets and awarded NCSoft damages in addition to an injunction preventing the employees and Bluehole from further using NCSoft’s trade secrets. On appeal, a Korean appellate court upheld the injunction but reversed on damages. Currently, the criminal convictions and civil judgment are pending on appeal before Korea’s highest court.

NCSoft and Bluehole’s court battle now crossed the seas into the U.S. since Bluehole announced plans to release in the spring of 2012 an English-language version of a 2011 Korean MMORPG, TERA, which was allegedly developed using NCSoft trade secrets, notwithstanding the injunction from the Korean civil court.

NCSoft is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent Bluehole from launching TERA in the U.S. Alternatively, it seeks damages for the “substantial harm that such a launch will inevitable cause NCSoft.” NCSoft’s other claims in the complaint include copyright infringement, breach of confidence, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.

Southern District of New York
Conviction of former Goldman Sachs programmer for trade secrets theft is reversed by the Second Circuit

In 2011, Sergey Aleynikov was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for the theft of trade secrets under the Economic Espionage Act and transportation of stolen property in interstate commerce under the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA). This case marked the first instance of federal prosecutors using the Economic Espionage Act (EEA) to police the misuse of source code related to high frequency trading. The trade secrets at issue are segments of computer source code from Goldman Sachs & Co. (Goldman) that are used in its high frequency trading platform.

In February 2012, the court reversed Aleynikov's conviction of trade secrets theft in a one-page order. In an opinion published April 11, 2012, the Second Circuit held that Sergey Aleynikov was wrongly charged with theft of property because the code did not qualify as a physical object under a federal theft statute. The court held that "because Aleynikov did not ‘assume physical control’ over anything when he took the source code, and because he did not thereby ‘deprive [Goldman] of its use,’ Aleynikov did not violate the [National Stolen Property Act]." It also ruled that Aleynikov was wrongly charged with espionage, since the code was not a product designed for interstate or foreign commerce. The decision called into question the government's ability to prosecute theft of internal trading systems or other internal financial instruments under the Economic Espionage Act.

Southern District of New York
Hilton and Starwood Hotels reach settlement in suit alleging theft of trade secrets and use of secrets to develop competing luxury brand of hotels

The court consented to the settlement reached in January, 2011 between Starwood and Hilton Hotels in the trade secrets case initiated by Starwood in 2009. The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2009, related to the defection of two senior executives from Starwood to Hilton. In April 2009, Ross Klein and Amar Lalvani moved to Hilton, taking hundreds of thousands of electronic documents which were essentially the blueprints for the beginning of a hotel brand. The settlement included a $75 million cash payment to Starwood and a permanent injunction which prohibits Hilton from opening any new “luxury and lifestyle” hotels for two years.

Status: A federal grand jury in Manhattan continues to investigate whether Hilton and its former executives should face criminal charges.

Complaint filed Apr. 16, 2009
Permanent injunction issued Dec. 22, 2010.

S.D.N.Y.
DuPont Wins Complex Case on Summary Judgment

Big Vision Private, Ltd. (Big Vision), a company based in Mumbai, India, lost its trade secrets case against E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. (DuPont) on a motion for summary judgment. The case will be of interest both to practitioners of trade secrets and of patent law. Big Vision claimed that DuPont had filed a U.S. patent on a manufacturing process for which Big Vision already had a patent in India.

Both the claims and the history were complex. The two companies had worked together in trials. As for the claims, the case has several hundred exhibits and the court notes, in footnote 1, "the parties have submitted two separate 56.1 statements, two 56.1 counterstatements (resulting in 223 paragraphs of fact, nearly 200 of which were contested to some extent), 227 exhibits, and thousands of pages of deposition transcripts."

Big Vision appears to have made several fundamental mistakes in crafting its trade secrets case. For example, the court found that its definition of its own trade secret changed. Big Vision also made mistakes in the details of its claim. Big Vision claimed that no other company had a "cost-competitive" product, but failed to offer any pricing evidence.

Big Vision had failed to describe its trade secret with particularity, a rule that is common in most Courts of Appeals, even though "the Second Circuit has not explicitly adopted this requirement."

Big Vision did not have a trade secret. "[T]he evidence shows that Big Vision disclosed either the 'recipe' it obtained from another company’s patent, or variations of a formulation derived from structures tested at the First and Second Trials, to at least 16 different third parties."

Finally, the court also found no misappropriation by DuPont.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Second Circuit Limits CFAA in Cannibal Cop Case

About two years ago Alberto Valle, later known as the “Cannibal Cop,” was convicted of being involved in a criminal conspiracy to kidnap and violating the CFAA by using his work access as a New York City Police Officer to further his conspiracy. After his jury conviction, Valle filed a motion for acquittal on both charges. The district court granted his motion on the kidnapping charge, finding that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to establish the kidnapping conspiracy, but denied the motion on the CFAA charge. The Second Circuit then reviewed the case and found in favor of Valle because the language of the CFAA was ambiguous.
“The CFAA imposes both criminal and civil liability for anyone who ‘intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access,’ and in doing so ‘obtains…information from any protected computer.’”18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C). The crux of the decision and the circuit split is based on the meaning of the phrase “exceeds authorized access.” The First, Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuit Courts have all held that the language in the CFAA is clear and has broader application- that “under the statute you’re not entitled to use your company access to obtain information for a purpose not permitted by your employer.” However, the Second Circuit in Valle joins the Fourth and Ninth Circuit in holding that the CFAA has a much narrower application- Valle’s activity does not violate the CFAA because Valle was authorized by his employer to access the information he accessed- it doesn’t matter that Valle’s purpose for seeking the information was outside the scope of his employer’s authority. Though the Second Circuit saw the merit in the view adopted by the First, Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits, the Second Circuit decided it must find in favor of Valle, the criminal defendant, because of the rule of lenity.
Read the full decision here. It looks probable that this issue will be analyzed by the Supreme Court due to the circuit split that has occurred. Stay tuned for more developments on the interpretation of the CFAA.