Cases from New York

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Former Susquehanna International Group Engineer Charged with Theft of Trading Code

Defendant Dmitry Sazonov ("Defendant" or "Sazonov"), age 44, was arrested on April 13, 2017, whereupon a criminal complaint was filed against him in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and federal prosecutors. The government alleges that Sazonov "attempted to steal valuable proprietary computer code that took his employer years to develop," according to Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim. Sazonoz was employed for thirteen years by Susquehanna International Group ("Susquehanna"), a financial services firm headquartered in Pennsylvania with offices in Manhattan. Susquehanna's principal line of business is securities trading and other financial products. Sazonov allegedly attempted to steal "proprietary computer code for a trading platform" that Susquehanna developed. The Feds report that "the trading platform Sazonov worked on trades $300 million in options daily." The FBI's investigation revealed that "Sazonov allegedly took elaborate steps to conceal his attempted theft, including camouflaging pieces of source code within harmless-looking draft emails on his work computer." The criminal complaint alleges that Sazonov efforts to steal the code began in February 2017 when he learned his supervisor had resigned.

The Defendant is charged with one count of attempted theft of trade secrets, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The charges contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the Defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Complaint: http://src.bna.com/nVJ

Appellate Division, First Department, New York State Supreme Court
Sergey Aleynikov Found Guilty (Again) of Stealing Software from Goldman Sachs

On January 24, 2017, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, reinstated defendant Sergey Aleynikov's ("Aleynikov") guilty conviction for stealing trading software from Goldman Sachs ("Goldman"). The decision came after a series of litigation that sought to determine whether Aleynikov violated federal or state law by making an electronic copy of the software on an external hard drive just before he left Goldman to work at a competing company.

Aleynikov was formerly an employee of Goldman Sachs, where he worked as a computer programmer. During his time with Goldman, Aleynikov wrote and maintained software for high frequency trading computer programs, which are central to Goldman's business. Goldman took several measures to safeguard the software, some of which included increasing security, limiting employee access, and requiring all employees to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement. In 2009, Aleynikov left Goldman to work for Teza Technologies, one of Goldman's competitors. Before he left, he transferred a digital copy of Goldman's trading software to a hard drive outside the company's server. As a result, he faced criminal charges in federal and state court.

In February 2010, Aleynikov was charged with violating the National Stolen Property Act and the Economic Espionage Act. In December 2010, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York convicted him. However, on appeal the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed his conviction in April 2012.

Shortly after, in September 2012, Aleynikov was charged by the state of New York in New York County with two counts of unlawful use of secret scientific material and one count of unlawful duplication of computer related material. After trial in July 2015, the jury acquitted Aleynikov on the unlawful duplication of computer related material charge, and the court dismissed the charges for unlawful use of secret scientific material. The People appealed, and on January 24, 2017, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division reversed, and reinstated his conviction with respect to the unlawful use of secret scientific material charge.

The Appellate Division reasoned that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Aleynikov misappropriated scientific information. According to the court's decision, Aleynikov did not challenge the People's contention that he electronically copied the Goldman software, nor did he deny that the software constitutes secret scientific material. Furthermore, the court rejected Aleynikov's arguments that he did not possess requisite intent to commit the offense and that he did not make a tangible copy of the software.

The case is The People of the State of New York v. Sergey Aleynikov, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, No. 4447/12. A copy of the court's opinion can be found here: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/people-state-new-york-v-sergey-aleynikov/filings/sergey-aleynikov-found-guilty-again-stealing-

Appellate Division, First Department, New York Supreme Court
Zylon Raises Triable Issues of Fact in its "Zero-Fold" Catheter Suit

A New York state appellate division court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that rejected a motion to dismiss trade secrets misappropriation and unfair competition claims where such claims raised triable issues of fact about the alleged trade secrets.

Plaintiff Zylon Corp. is a company that focuses on developing new technologies relating to medical materials, medical devices, and catheters. Defendant Medtronic, Inc. is a medical device designer and manufacturer. In 2005, the parties entered into an Evaluation Agreement whereby Zylon Corp. would create a “zero-fold” balloon to be used in angioplasty catheters for Medtronic. As part of the Agreement, all information and processes developed through the course of the project were to be confidential and the property of Medtronic.

In 2008, Zylon brought suit against Medtronic, alleging that after disclosing the Zylon design and manufacturing process of creating the “zero-fold” balloon to Medtronic as a part of their confidential relationship, Medtronic misappropriated trade secrets and confidential information related to the process to create a balloon component for a different product, the Sprinter® Legend Semicompliant Rapid Exchange Balloon Catheter. Zylon argued that the information provided to Medtronic included Zylon trade secrets, outside of the Agreement’s confidential information.

The appellate division court affirmed the decision because Zylon raised triable issues of fact about the trade secret process for creating “zero-fold” balloons and whether a protectable trade secret existed. Medtronic failed to demonstrate that the information it used to create its own catheters was the same confidential information pursuant to the Agreement. As such, the court affirmed the lower court, rejecting Medtronic’s bid to dismiss Zylons claims.

Appellate Division, First Department, Supreme Court of New York
NY Appellate Court Revives Claim Against Early Equity Investor in Pinterest

Plaintiff Theodore F. Schroeder alleged that defendants Brian S. Cohen, New York Angels, Inc. (“NY Angels”), and Pinterest Inc. (“Pinterest”) misappropriated Schroeder's confidential ideas, technology and business plans in developing the popular social network bulletin board, Pinterest.com. In 2005, Schroeder had initially invited Cohen to participate in planning meetings for another project and during these meetings, Schroeder had shared confidential information, which Schroeder alleges Cohen then provided to Pinterest.

On October 6, 2015, the NY appellate court revived the trade secret misappropriation claim, stating that the Complaint provides sufficient support for the trade secret misappropriation claim against Cohen and NY Angels. The court noted that Cohen had indeed been exposed to the confidential information and had provided the confidential information whilst knowing the information must remain confidential. Further, the opinion notes Schroeder’s efforts in trying to maintain secrecy over the technology he worked on for roughly four years. However, the court did not extend the misappropriation claim to Pinterest, as there were no facts in the pleadings demonstrating that there had ever been a confidential relationship established between Plaintiff and Pinterest, let alone any contact between them at all.

Click here to read the full opinion.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
Ex-Charles Schwab employee Alledgedly Recruits Former Clients to Join New Competing Financial Group

Securities brokerage firm Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. has filed suit against former financial consultant Douglas Castro, employed in the brokerage’s Garden City, New York office from until December 2011, when he allegedly abruptly left Schwab and immediately began work at ADC Wealth management, Castro’s newly formed wealth management firm. Schwab’s complaint alleges that Castro was responsible form managing a portfolio worth neatly $275 million, and possessed voluminous information about his former clients and access to extensive amounts of client account information, assets and tax information, as well as investment objectives and other client financial records. The Schwab brokerage complaint includes allegations of Castro’s breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of duty of loyalty, and unfair competition. According to Schwab, Castor utilized Schwab trade secret customer information without authorization, and therein misappropriated said information by soliciting Schwab clients for his newly formed competing firm ADC Wealth Management (ADC).

Not surprisingly, Castro executed confidentiality, non-solicitation and assignment agreements that barred him from using Schwab customer information to divert Schwab business to a new company or solicit Schwab clients to transition their accounts outside the brokerage. In the terms of his agreement with Schwab, Castro agreed not to solicit Schwab customers upon the termination of his employment, to protect the confidentiality of customer information, and not to use or disclose Schwab's confidential information for any purpose aside from performing his duties and responsibilities on behalf of Schwab” (Complaint, 5). According to Schwab, Castro violated the terms of this agreement after he quit and subsequently contacted Schwab clients with accounts he managed, in attempts to have these individuals transfer their accounts to Castro’s new firm. The case against Castro presents a familiar factual import where a former employee is alleged to have violated previous contractual and statutory obligations not to utilize investor-client information for financial or personal gain. Here, Schwab asserts that Castro could not have possibly learned of the identities of the individual he solicited for ADC’s business services without the information Castro obtained through Schwab.

However, somewhat unique to the case at bar is that both the identities of the Schwab customers themselves, in addition to their respective financial portfolio and wealth management information are seemingly claimed as Schwab trade secrets in this matter. While simply customer names themselves are likely not considered trade secret information, generally customer lists developed by a business through substantial effort and kept in confidence may be treated as a trade secret and protected at the owner's instance against disclosure to a competitor, provided the information it contains is not otherwise readily ascertainable. See North Atlantic Instruments v. Haber, 188 F.3d 38 (2d Cir. 1999). Determination of whether the Schwab customer information is trade secret will include a consideration of the cost, energy, and time taken by Schwab to cultivate their customer information, a question of fact rather than law. Importantly, the complaint goes to great lengths to outline the steps taken by Schwab to maintain the secrecy of their client information, an essential element for client-lists to be considered trade secrets under common law and count III of the complaint at bar. No answer has been filed by Fisher and Phillips LLP, the New Jersey firm representing Douglas Castro.

Supreme Court of the State of New York
ARS Accused Ex-Employee of Breaking "Code of Ethics" and Stealing Trade Secrets for New Employer UBS

On Thursday, October 18, 2012, investment firm A.R. Schmeidler & Co. Inc (“ARS”) brought suit against its former Senior Vice President Michael Kahn, as well as Kahn’s new employer UBS Financial Services, Inc. (“UBS”) (collectively “Defendants”). ARS alleged Defendants stole and unfairly utilized confidential and proprietary information related to ARS’ clientele. In addition to its common law claim for Misappropriation of Trade Secrets, ARS also brought causes of action for: Breach of Contract; Unfair Competition; Breach of Duty of Loyalty; Tortious Interference; and Conversion.

In its complaint, ARS alleged that after Kahn abruptly resigned from UBS, he “systematically contacted ARS’s clients” to discuss “their specific account and performance,” as well as “ different investment opportunities available at UBS.” His conduct – if true – could be in violation of a “Code of Ethics agreement” that Kahn had agreed to as part of his employment with ARS. The agreement requires Kahn to “maintain ARS’s confidential client information and not divulge such information to third parties” after termination. ARS asserts its client list is also a trade secret, as evidenced by the amount of resources ARS expended to compile the non-publicized list of “high net worth individuals in need of investment management and services.”

In addition to damages, ARS seeks both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against Defendants. The proposed injunctions would enjoin Defendants them from using “ARS’s trade secrets or confidential client information, including client lists, client account values, performance, investments and holdings or by soliciting any of ARS’s clients that were procured by ARS . . . .”

S.D.N.Y.
New York Court Dismisses Inevitable Disclosure Claim

Alleging a stand-alone claim under the inevitable disclosure doctrine, plaintiff sued a former a sales associate and sought permanent injunctive relief barring the former employee from disclosing any of plaintiff's trade secrets or confidential information, and from working for its competitor. There were no allegations that the former employee breached a non-disclosure agreement, disclosed or misappropriated any trade secrets, or was subject to a non-compete agreement. The court granted defendant's motion to dismiss and declined to expand New York's application of the inevitable disclosure doctrine under this set of facts and outside of the preliminary injunction context.

New York County, Supreme Court of the State of New York
Plaintiffs Claim Idea for Huffington Post Was Stolen From Them

Plaintiffs filed this action against Arianna Huffington and the HuffingtonPost.Com, Inc. to recover what they felt was unjust enrichment and fraudulant activity on the part of defendants. Plaintiffs contend that the idea for the democratic-leaning news and blogging site was theirs originally and that they communicated this idea to defendants, who then went ahead and created TheHuffingtonPost without any attribution to plaintiffs.

United States District Court for the Western District of New York
Digital Document Security company DSS Sues Coupons.com for Alleged Theft of Coupon Technology

On July 13, 2012, the US District Court for the Western District of New York gave notice to the parties in Document Security Systems, Inc. (DSS) v. Coupons.com rescheduling the motions hearing set for October 9th, 2012 . Motions will now be heard on August 16th regarding DSS’s October 24, 2011 claims against Coupons.com for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition and unjust enrichment. Specifically, DSS is a cloud-computing data integration company specializing in anti-counterfeiting, authentication, and mass-serialization technologies. The lawsuit alleges that Coupons.com misappropriated DSS’s proprietary digital copy protection technology, using said technology in their coupons without authorization. The business relationship between DSS and Coupons.com was centered around DSS’s secret “Blockout” technology that when placed onto an image, will render a print-out of the image unable to be copied or scanned by high-end electronic devices (Complaint ¶ 2). Coupons.com representatives signed non-disclosure agreements and were shown three kinds of DSS security technology including the proprietary Blockout software, for the purposes of “evaluating a potential business relationship (Complaint ¶ 24; quoting 2005 NDA ¶ 3). DSS alleges in its complaint that Coupons.com used the proprietary Blockout software in their digital coupons without paying for or being granted rights to commercial use of their proprietary product in any contract or otherwise.
In response, Coupons.com’s motion to dismiss filed early December 2011 argues that DSS’s trade secrets misappropriation and unfair competition claims must be dismissed as duplicative of the breach of contract for violation of the non-disclosure agreement. Furthermore, Coupons.com does not specifically deny violation of its NDA with DSS or use of the DSS Blockout software in its coupons, but instead asserts that the other claims must be thrown out under New York law. Citing Clark-Fitzpatrick, Inc. v. Long Island Railroad Co., Coupons challenges DSS’s tort claims arising from an alleged breach of contract, because DSS did not plead an independent legal duty extraneous to the contract. In other words, Coupons.com defends that without any further contractual obligation, they are liable only for damages arising under violation of the existing non-disclosure agreement.
Undoubtedly the Western District Court expedited the hearing schedule on this matter lay in anticipation of Coupons.com pending method patent (granted on July 17th) for a “System and Method of Augmenting Content in Electronic Documents with Links to Contextually Relevant Information. ” Such a patent will allow for the digitization of Coupons.com on handheld electronic devices for use by consumers, essentially eliminating the need the printable coupons and their electronic protections (like the DSS Blockout software). However, Coupons.com recent announcement of its new merchant self-service “Brandcaster Retail” coupon e-platform may imply Coupons.com continuing need for digital copy protection technology like the DSS Blockout software . Thus while early settlement was at one time possible, October 2012 mediation sessions failed to amicably settle the relevant and substantive legal issue of whether Coupons.com’s sole breach of their non-disclosure agreement with DSS (by way of unauthorized commercial use the Blockout software) bars subsequent trade secret misappropriation claims under the same cause of action. As such, the case is currently in pre-trial discovery posture as both parties adhere to the discovery schedule outlined by Hon. Marian W. Payson on December 12, 2012.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn)
GEO Group sues former executive for misappropriating its trade secrets to secure a multi-million dollar contract from the U.S. Government

On April 7, 2011, GEO Group Inc. (GEO), a corrections services agency, sued a former executive, Jack A. Brown III, claiming Brown misappropriated its trade secrets to secure a multi-million dollar government contract from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons. Brown was employed at GEO as Vice President of Community Corrections from October 2005 to March 2009. During this period, he allegedly was running another business on the side, Community First Services Inc. (CFS), without GEO's knowledge. GEO claims that it planned to submit a bid for the Bureau of Prisons project, but Brown accessed GEO’s confidential proposal materials and information in order to compose a lower bid for CFS. Brown then abruptly resigned from GEO and submitted the CFS bid. CFS was awarded the contract by the Department of Justice. GEO claims that its proposal materials and information were a trade secret.