Cases from California

County of Santa Clara, Superior Court of the State of California
Tesla Settles Trade Secrets Lawsuit with Ex-Chief of Autopilot Program

In Jaunary 2017, Tesla Motors, Inc. ("Tesla") filed a breach of contract lawsuit against former employee Sterling Anderson, former chief of the company’s Autopilot Program, and Chris Urmson, former CTO of Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving technology. Tesla alleged that Anderson and Urmson attempted to recruit multiple Tesla engineers to their new company, Aurora, and for allegedly stole “hundreds of gigabytes” of confidential Tesla information.

Anderson’s and Urmsons’s goal for Aurora is to develop driverless cars and improve safety for self-driving technology. Tesla claimed in the suit that Anderson violated his employment contract and breached a duty of loyalty to Tesla by recruiting Tesla engineers and using company information to form Aurora.

On April 19, 2017, the parties settled the lawsuit when Tesla agreed to withdraw its suit without damages, attorneys’ fees, or any finding of wrongdoing. Aurora agreed to reimburse Tesla for future ongoing audits conducted to establish that Aurora did not in fact misappropriate Tesla’s trade secrets. Aurora also agreed to pay Tesla $100,000. As per the settlement, Anderson’s contractual obligations to Tesla will remain intact and will also extend to Aurora.

The case is Tesla Motors Inc. v. Anderson et al., case number 17-CV-305646, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara.

United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Battle of Self-Driving Cars

Waymo LLC, a self-driving car startup under Alphabet (originally known as Google’s Self-Driving Car Project), filed a complaint in California’s Northern District accusing Uber of violating the Defense of Trade Secrets Act and the California Uniform Trade Secret Act, as well as patent infringement. Waymo alleges that a former Google employee, Anthony Levandowski, secretly downloaded 14,000 files of “highly confidential data” from Google’s hardware systems before resigning a month later and launching a self-driving truck startup called Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016 and put Levandowski in charge of its self-driving efforts. Waymost alleges that Levandowski used the information from Google’s system to launch Otto.

The complaint very specifically names the ways in which Levandowski stole the data. The data revolves around a key piece of technology called LiDAR ("Light Detection and Ranging"), which uses high-frequency, high-power pulsing lasers to measure distances between one or more sensors and external objects to build a detailed map of the environment around the car. Waymo has invested millions in its own LiDAR hardware and alleges that Levandowski misappropriated this data in developing Otto and working for Uber.

Filed complaint: http://nyti.ms/2mMwBcA

Superior Court of the State of California
Media Giants Fixated on Fixed-Term Employment Agreements

Twentieth Century Fox (“Plaintiff”) has lodged a complaint against Netflix, Inc. (“Defendant”) in California state court, alleging that Defendant fraudulently and maliciously interfered with the Fixed-Term Employment Agreements Plaintiff had with two of its executive employees: Marcos Waltenberg (formerly Vice President, Promotions) and Tara Flynn (formerly Vice President, Creative). Those agreements were to terminate in 2016 and 2017, respectively, with an additional two-year option period at their initial expiration. Waltenberg joined Defendant Netflix’s payroll, however, in January 2016 and Flynn joined before her option period expired in August 2016.

Netflix is accused of “soliciting, recruiting, encouraging, and inducing” Fox employees to terminate their employment with Fox early. For their part, Fox claims that Netflix’s actions have resulted in irreparable injury to Fox’s ability to contract for a stable workforce (especially with regard to corporate planning), and to its business reputation and goodwill. Twentieth Century Fox seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a permanent injunction enjoining Netflix from interfering with any of its Fixed-Term contracts.
It is worth noting that the agreements at issue in this case are not non-competes.

California has taken the rare stance of voiding all non-compete agreements. California Business and Professions Code section 16600 provides that, “[e]xcept as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind is to that extent void.” This puts employers in the position of creating a workaround to employee retention and market advantage. In California, that is often accomplished through Fixed-Term Employment Agreements.

Check back for updates, and read the complaint here: https://www.scribd.com/document/324263613/Complaint-9-16

Santa Clara County, Supreme Court of the State of California
Former Palantir Employee Sued for Misappropriating Trade Secrets

Palantir, a data analytics company headquartered in Palo Alto, California, filed a lawsuit on September 1, 2016 alleging Marc Abramowitz (“the defendant”), one of its early investors, stole trade secrets and used them for his own benefit. Palantir filed the complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of California in Santa Clara County. It alleges that the defendant used confidential information to file false claims with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to obtain patents.

Defendant was an early investor with Palantir who regularly discussed some of the company’s sensitive business and trade secrets with company executives. The complaint states that the defendant used his position in the company to steal trade secrets by deceiving senior executives. Furthermore, Palantir alleges that defendant had his lawyers demand access to confidential information pursuant to Palantir’s Investors’ Rights Agreement with the defendant. The complaint states that the defendant then misappropriated this information for his personal gain by filing three patents based on the ideas he stole from Palantir.

Palantir requests a declaratory judgment that the defendant has no right to access the information he demanded under the company’s Investors’ Rights Agreement. The complaint includes multiple claims, some of which include misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing.

A link to Palantir's complaint can be found here: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/palantir-technologies-inc-v-marc-abramowitz/filings/former-palantir-employee-sued-misappropria

United States District Court for the Southern District of California
Trump University Playbooks Not Trade Secret

A federal district court in California granted the Washington Post’s motion to intervene in the case to request the immediate unsealing of court documents relating to Trump University “Playbooks.” These items had been filed as sealed exhibits by Plaintiff Art Cohen (“Plaintiff”) as part of his Class Certification Motion against Defendants Trump University, LLC and Donald J. Trump (“Defendant”).

Plaintiff brings litigation individually and on behalf of others who enrolled in Trump University, a for profit education company teaching real estate tips and practices. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant misrepresented his role in curating Trump University curricula and instructors, and that Defendant is liable for mail and wire fraud. This initial matter was allowed to proceed under the court’s February 21, 2014 ruling, denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint as time-barred under the Clayton Act. At issue now is whether 153 particular pages, from four different documents, contain Defendant’s trade secrets and should therefore remain sealed.

The court granted the Post’s motion to intervene because much of the contested information was duplicative of a 2010 Playbook which had previously been posted online in full by the political news website, Politico, thereby destroying Defendant’s trade secret and confidentiality claims. The Court further found that the Playbooks contained "very routine and commonplace information.” The Court therefore dismissed as moot Defendant’s claims that the special compilation of information itself constituted an “arguable” trade secret (see August 28, 2014 Order, aka "Gallo Order,” in the related case Low v. Trump University, LLC., No. 3:10-cv-00940-GPC-WVG, ECF No. 343). The Court also recognized the public’s strong interest in accessing court materials related to Defendant, who is the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential race.

Plaintiff was ordered to file unsealed versions of most playbooks, with only phone numbers and non-corporate e-mail addresses redacted. A sampling of these documents can be found here: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/31/480214102/trump-university-playbooks-released-by-court-advise-being-courteous-to-media

Check back for updates on this case.

County of San Francisco, Superior Court of California
Jawbone Obtains Preliminary Injunction Against Rival Fitbit in Trade Secrets Dispute

On October 13 2015, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn issued a preliminary injunction, ordering five Fitbit employees who had formerly worked at Jawbone to return Jawbone confidential information they took before leaving. Judge Kahn agreed with Jawbone that the information taken constituted confidential information and that these employees likely breached their confidentiality agreements with Jawbone when they provided the confidential information to their new employer, Fitbit.

This is the first opinion in the ongoing legal battle between rival wearable fitness tracker makers, Fitbit and Jawbone. Since May 2015, Jawbone has filed three complaints against Fitbit, and in turn, Fitbit has filed two complaints against Jawbone.

In May 2015, Jawbone owner Aliphcom Corp. sued rival Fitbit after its announcement of its initial public offering in California State Court. In an effort to “decimate” Jawbone, Jawbone alleged that Fitbit poached its employees and stole its trade secrets. Per the initial Complaint, Jawbone alleged that Fitbit contacted roughly 30 percent of its workforce in early 2015 and of those contacted, at least five employees had left Jawbone to work for Fitbit. Before leaving, Jawbone alleged that these employees downloaded sensitive information - which included business plans, research, product plans, services, customer lists and data - stored it on thumb drives, and then provided it to their new employer, Fitbit.

In June 2015, a week before Fitbit’s IPO, Jawbone filed a second lawsuit in California federal court, alleging that each of Fitbit’s products infringed at least one of three Jawbone patents. Then, in July 2015, Jawbone petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission to block imports of Fitbit’s products, alleging patent infringement. In August 2015, the ITC posted a short notice online stating that the agency will investigate whether Fitbit has been importing infringing fitness tracking devices.

In response, on September 3rd, Fitbit Inc. accused Jawbone of patent infringement in a suit filed in Delaware federal court and then on September 8th, Fitbit filed another patent infringement suit in California federal court.

California Court of Appeal Third Appellate District
California Courts Affirms Attorneys' Fees for Defendants

As a reminder that attorneys’ fees can be awarded to a defendant under the uniform trade secrets act, where a misappropriation claim is brought in bad faith, a California appellate court, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed such an award on May 13, 2014. The attorney's fees were the sole issue on appeal in a case that had proceeded through two trials, and dates back to 2007. In the second trial, the court awarded defendants attorneys fees and a "lodestar" multiplier of 1.33 even though attorney Peter Scott agreed to represent defendants free of charge in order to settle a malpractice claim by defendants.

Central Division, County of Los Angeles, Superior Court of the State of California
Still Fighting over Dolls: MGA Refiles its Claim Against Mattel in Cal. State Court, Claiming UTSA Violation

In the latest chapter of this saga, MGA Entertainment filed a $1 billion suit against Mattel in a California state court claiming that Mattel engaged in willful and deceptive business practices regarding the Bratz line of dolls. The complaint alleges that for over fifteen years, Mattel employees snuck into trade shows in order to steal advertising lists, price lists and new product concepts. One year ago, a Ninth Circuit panel threw out a $170 million jury award in favor of MGA on grounds that MGA's counterclaim was not properly before that jury; the Ninth Circuit left the door open for MGA to refile.

United States District Court for the Southern District of California
Court dismisses Tablet Maker Fraud Claims, Trade Secret Missapropriation Claims Remain

Popular children’s toy purveyor “Toys ‘R’ Us” (TRU) recently turned tech, having introduced its “Nabi” children’s electronic tablet device in late 2011 and “Nabi 2” in summer 2012. With TRU’s announcement of its own “Tabeo” tablet set for October 2012, the company was set to enter into its “first move into house-brand electronics.” (WSJ; Complaint Exhibit A). However, according to a September 24, 2012 filing, TRU is now being sued by Nabi maker FUHU in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. In FUHU v. Toys R Us, No 3:12-cv-02308, electronics manufacturer FUHU claimed breach of contract, unfair competition, breach of implied covenant of good faith, and alleged misappropriation of its trade secrets by Toys R Us in its development of the TRU Tabeo tablet. The Tabeo was designed by TRU to progress upon and replace the original Nabi devices created by FUHU, and formerly sold in TRU stores. These devices were the subject of an exclusive distribution license between FUHU and TRU, terminated in 2011 for alleged under-performance and frustration to market on the part of TRU. The current lawsuit claims that TRU is seeking to capitalize on the Tabeo device by breaching its non-disclosure agreement with FUHU, executed during production of Nabi 1, and by subsequently misappropriating FUHU ’s trade secrets for use in the creation of the Tabeo tablet.

While most of FUHU ’s pleadings address the breach of contract and unfair competition claims, the fourth claim alleges TRU’s trade secret misappropriation stemming from earlier disclosures by FUHU of proprietary information about its “FOOZ KIDS” device and software interface, the prototype for what eventual became the Nabi devices. While this disclosure was made in the context of a prior exclusive distribution agreement between FUHU and TRU for Nabi products, FUHU asserts that upon the agreement’s termination TRU continued to utilize FUHU trade secret materials. The FUHU trade secret information surrounding the Nabi “user interface” was only made available to TRU upon execution of a non-disclosure agreement prior to entering into the exclusive agreement. FUHU claims that TRU subsequently used FUHU ’s trade secret information to develop and manufacture its latest Tabeo tablet for commercial gain.

FUHU ’s complaint was immediately followed by motions for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against TRU, and to expedite discovery in order to preliminarily enjoin TRU from its upcoming release and sale of the Tabeo tablet. On October 19, 2012 Judge Hayes of the District Court denied all three FUHU claims supporting their application for a TRO, including TRU's alleged trade secret misappropriation. The court first reasoned that temporary restraining orders are an extreme remedy fashioned only where the plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits and is likely to suffer harm in the absence of preliminary relief. See Winter v. NRDC 555 US 7, 20 (2008). However, FUHU's pleadings did not demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable harm because the information identified by FUHU as trade secret was considered "general business concepts and broad marketing ideas that do not fit within the definition of trade secret under New Jersey Law (note that the existing NDA between the parties stipulated to NJ law). Order at 6. Denial of Fuhu's application for a temporary restraining order is a setback for the technology company, as the Toys R' Us Tabeo tablet was recently released in Mid-September.

After TRU's answer and subsequent FRE 12b6 motion to dismiss, the District Court issued an order on March 4th 2013 granting part of TRU's motion to dismiss six of FUHU's claims. fraud. However, the court left ten of the sixteen claims intact, including those for breach of contract and misappropriation of Trade Secrets. View the order by clicking the link below.

Northern District of California
ND Calif. Holds CUTSA Pre-Empts Non-Trade Secret Claims

On February 13, 2012, solar panel manufacturer SunPower Corporation filed suit against competitor SolarCity Corporation and former employees who left Sunpower to work at SolarCity. SunPower alleged that SolarCity and SunPower’s former employees misappropriated SunPower’s trade secrets in violation of the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), Cal. Civ. Code § 3426 et seq. SunPower also alleged a number of causes of action based on misappropriation of what SunPower termed “non-trade secret proprietary information,” including: breach of confidence, conversion, trespass to chattels, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and statutory and common law unfair competition.

On August 2, 2012, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the non-trade secret causes of action based on preemption by CUTSA. The Northern District of California dismissed the non-trade secrets causes of action on December 11, 2012, holding that they were preempted by CUTSA. The parties subsequently stipulated that the action be dismissed with prejudice, with each side bearing its own costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees. On January 28, 2013, the Court dismissed the action with prejudice and retained jurisdiction to enforce the parties’ settlement agreement.