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July 19, 2016 | UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
Defend Trade Secrets Act Takes a Bite Out of Fast Food Tussle

Panera, LLC (“Plaintiff”) has filed a complaint against Papa John’s International, Inc. and Michael Nettles (“Defendants”) for misappropriation of Panera’s trade secrets and other confidential information. Plaintiff alleges misappropriation under the Defend Trade Secrets Act and Missouri Uniform Trade Secrets Act, as well as raises counts of breach of contract and tortious interference with contractual relations regarding a non-compete which Nettles had signed. Plaintiff seeks immediate injunctive relief against Defendants.

Plaintiff Panera is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in Missouri. It serves made-to-order sandwiches, salads, soups, and other baked goods in its 2,000-plus branded stores across the United States and Canada. It considers its customer-facing technological innovations to be an integral part of its consumer appeal in a competitive market. Defendant corporation Papa John’s is also a Delaware company, but it is headquartered in Kentucky and—according to the complaint—likewise makes its “dough” products in a technology-driven, customer-centric environment. Co-defendant Michael Nettles recently moved from Missouri to Kentucky to begin work for Papa John’s. Previously, he had been Panera’s Vice President of Architecture in its Information Technology department from July 2012-July 2016, a position that allowed him access to Panera’s most sensitive and proprietary technologies.

Plaintiff alleges that Nettles misused or will misuse information including, but not limited to, Panera’s thought processes, visions, and schematics for its technology systems. Further, Plaintiff asserts Nettles has an intimate knowledge of Panera’s strategic plans for the next 2-4 years and that he is currently in violation of a non-compete agreement he (like all high-level executives at the company) signed in 2013, which prohibits him for working for a competitor company for a period of one year after ending his employment with Panera. According to the complaint, Nettles asked to be released from the non-compete when he was offered a job at Defendant company, but Panera’s CEO declined to do so. Instead, the CEO offered to help Nettles get a job with a company not in direct competition with Plaintiff. However, encouraged by Papa John’s—who Plaintiff asserts had actual knowledge of the strict non-compete—Nettles accepted the high-level position at Papa John’s. He then allegedly made copies of Panera’s sensitive information and stored them on his personal devices, where they remain.

Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction to restrict Nettles from disclosing or further disclosing trade secrets and confidential information to Papa John’s. If Plaintiff is successful in asserting its breach of contract claims under contract theory and also as a matter of public policy, Nettles would be enjoined from beginning employment with Defendant corporation for a period of one year from July 1, 2016. Plaintiff seeks a permanent injunction after trial, prohibiting disclosure of trade secrets and requesting the return of any such information to Panera. Plaintiff asks that Defendants cover its reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.

The complaint can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/318937409/Panera-lawsuit-vs-Papa-John-s-...

Update: August 15, 2016
A federal judge ordered Michael Nettles to discontinue working at the Louisvlle-based pizza chain. According to the order, Nettles must cease and desist "advising, consulting, or working for Papa John's," either directly or indirectly. The order also restricts Papa John's from seeking advice, consulting or employing Nettles and requires Nettles to pay a $200,000 security bond.

Additionally, according to the judge's order, a third-party forensic analyst will analyze Nettles' personal devices including his personal laptop. Nettles and Papa John's have been ordered to pay half of the analyst's cost and Panera will cover the remaining half.

July 11, 2016 | Oregon, U.S. District Court in Portland
Adidas Files Patent Infringement Suit Against Skechers

On July 11, 2016, Adidas filed suit against Skechers in the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon for willful infringement of two patents related to Springblade, a shoe design intended to help propel runners move forward. Adidas accused Sketchers of developing its Mega Flex shoes as "takedowns" that copy the Springblade technology without the cost of creating it. Adidas is seeking an injunction against any infringement and triple damages.

This is Adidas' second lawsuit against Skechers in less than a year. Last September, Adidas filed suit against Skechers for illegally copying the design for its classic white Stan Smith tennis shoes. Adidas was awarded a preliminary injunction in February 2016 and it scheduled for a jury trial in May 2017.

The patents at issue are U.S. Patent Nos. 9,339,079 and 9,345,285, both issued in May 2016.

Updates to follow.

June 8, 2016 | CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, Circuit Court of Cook County, Chancery Division, ILLINOIS COUNTY DEPARTMENT
Illinois Attorney General Cracks Down On Overbroad Non-Competes

The Attorney General of the State of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has filed a complaint on behalf of the People against Jimmy John’s Enterprises, LLC and Jimmy John’s Franchise, LLC (collectively, “Defendants”) for the use of overly restrictive non-compete clauses as used against low-wage, at-will employees. The state seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as civil damages, for Defendants’ alleged restraint of free trade and employee mobility.

Defendants operate a national sandwich chain, incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Illinois. They own eight Jimmy John's Sandwich Shops in Illinois, including all intellectual property associated with the stores and franchises. From approximately September 2007-April 2015, low-level employees signed a non-compete clause as a prerequisite to employment. Although the clause itself went through several iterations, it remained substantially the same. The non-compete clause applied to assistant store managers, delivery personnel, sandwich-makers, and other store employees, prohibiting them from working with an employer situated within two miles of any Jimmy John’s store, if that employer derived at least ten per cent of their revenue from certain categories of products (including “deli” sandwiches). This prohibition stretched for a period of two years after ending employment with Defendants.

The state believes Defendants’ actions were unreasonable and harmful, as these particular employees had limited access to trade secrets or other confidential information. Illinois alleges that Defendants’ conduct has resulted in a restraint of trade in the state, affecting not only Jimmy John’s employees but other Illinois businesses and the public at large. Illinois brings this action because Defendants have made no attempt to modify or rescind the non-compete.

The state requests that the Court declare the non-competes void as a matter of public policy and without adequate consideration as a matter of law. It also seeks an injunction to prevent Defendants from continuing with the non-compete clause. Finally, the state seeks restitution on behalf of Illinois consumers and businesses, a disgorgement of profits received by Defendants as a result of the alleged conduct, and a penalty of $50,000 per violation.

The complaint can be found here: https://will.illinois.edu/nfs/JimmyJohnsComplaintFILED.pdf

June 8, 2016 | Chancery Division, Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court
Jimmy John's Ditches Overbroad Non-Compete Agreements

Jimmy John's, a sandwich shop chain incorporated in Delaware, has included broad non-compete agreements in employment contracts with low-income employees. The agreements at issue prevent employees from working at competing companies if they were (1) located within 2 miles of a Jimmy John's Shop, and (2) made more than 10% of their profit selling sandwiches. The agreements last for a period of two years after the employee leaves the company.

On June 8, 2016, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Jimmy John’s Illinois franchisees for forcing low-income workers to sign these non-compete agreements. The company announced that it told Madigan it would no longer use or enforce the non-compete agreements. Madigan’s case, People v. Jimmy John’s Enterprises, LLC, remains open.

Relatedly, Jimmy John's New York franchisees have agreed to stop enforcing the non-compete agreements, and told New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that they would void past agreements with their employees.

For more information about People v. Jimmy John’s Enterprises, LLC, see http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/people-v-jimmy-john%E2%80%99s-enterprises-llc.

September 11, 2015 | Ramsey County District Court
Breaking News

Last week, Bryan Szweda, a former vice president at St. Jude Medical was charged with theft of trade secrets in Ramsey County District Court in Ramsey County, Minnesota. While at St. Jude Medical, Szweda filled the role of vice president of operations for global manufacturing of structural heart devices. Szweda presently works at Edwards Lifesciences, one of St. Jude’s competitors that manufactures artificial heart valves. In addition to five felony counts of theft by swindle, Szweda is accused of taking over 4,000 files related to his work at St. Jude before he was placed on administrative leave in September 2014. The stolen files included one of St. Jude’s most restricted documents- its strategic plan which detailed a roadmap of St. Jude’s research and marketing initiatives. Szweda had already moved out of state by the time investigators executed the search warrant on Szweda’s former home in Plymouth, Minnesota. Stay tuned for more developments in this case.

For more information on the case see here and here.

December 14, 2014 | United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Surviving A Motion to Dismiss in Trade Secret Cases

The Federal Circuit held that the dismissal of a trade secrets complaint for failure to state a justiciable claim was not warranted solely because the misconduct allegedly involved a number of wrongdoers and began many years before the complaint was filed. Remanded for further proceedings, ABB Turbo Systems, AG v. TurboUSA, Inc., Case No. 2014-1356 (Fed. Cir., Dec. 17, 2014) ABB’s pleading alleged various actions the company took to protect its trade secrets.

The trial court inferred that ABB’s efforts to protect secrecy probably would be deemed insufficient but the federal circuit held that only “reasonable” care is required, and “the complaint stage is not well-suited to determining what precautions are reasonable in a given context.”

Seeking the best chance for surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint which alleges the relevant facts as the pleader understands them, and which aligns those factual allegations with the operative legal principles as ABB seemingly did in this case, is recommended. On appeal, ABB’s pleading was found to satisfy those minimum standards. Going forward, the parties will have an opportunity to perform some discovery before the trial court decides whether further litigation would be futile. Stay tuned for developments.

November 28, 2014 | United States District Court for the District of Delaware
Solazyme Counter-Claims Trade Secret Misappropriation

Solazyme is alleging that Roquette Freres SA misappropriated its trade secrets regarding algae-based nutritional products.

The companies agreed to a research and development joint venture in November 2010 on microalgae-derived products. After the agreement fell apart, a subsequent arbitration between the parties held that Solazyme was entitled to all of the improvements made to the intellectual property it brought to the agreement.

Roquette sued in the federal court of Delaware in November 28, 2014 to vacate the arbitration order and for a declaration of joint ownership of the algae Intellectual Property rights. Solazyme answered on February 26, 2015 that Roquette agreed to the secrecy of Solazyme's IP under the agreement and violated the agreement by filing patent applications on the IP material.

The case is Roquette Freres SA v. Solazyme Inc., 14-cv-01442, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington). https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/5370069/Roquette_Freres_SA_v_So...

May 1, 2014 | United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh)
U.S. Government Files Charges Against Chinese Officials for Cybertheft of Trade Secrets

In the first time charges have ever been brought against a state actor for cyber-espionage including theft of trade secrets, the U.S. government has alleged that five Chinese Officials stole valuable information from a number of U.S. companies. The indictment, filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, enumerates the alleged conduct, including: stealing confidential and proprietary technical and design specifications for pipes, pipe supports, and pipe routing for a Westinghouse Power Plant; stealing confidential information from SolarWorld regarding their cash flow, manufacturing metrics, production line, and costs; installing malware on U.S. Steel computers in an attempt to identify and exploit vulnerable servers; stealing network credentials for nearly every ATI employee; stealing e-mails from senior USW employees containing sensitive information about USW strategies related to pending trade disputes with China; and stealing emails from Alcoa pertaining to an agreement between Alcoa and a Chinese State Owned Enterprise.

Estimating the cost of cyber-espionage on the U.S. economy is quite tricky, but some economists have claimed the damages are on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Over the past year, the U.S. has made it clear that they will intensify their efforts to put an end to the theft. John Carlin, the Assistant A.G. for National Security, stated that “State actors engaged in cyber espionage for economic advantage are not immune from the law just because they hack under the shadow of their country’s flag.”

January 13, 2014 | 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.

November 12, 2013 | N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div.
The Employee Who Was Allowed to Compete from His Garage

This case starts with an unusual employment agreement, which allowed Felix Ferrer to operate a business called FNA out of his garage while working for his employer, SAS Stressteel. Ferrer is an experienced construction engineer who was an important sales manager for his previous employer, DYWIDAG-Systems International, with 31 years' experience, when SAS hired him in 2001.

The agreement gave Ferrer 10% of the company, a guaranteed salary and benefits, and contained a non-solicitation provision but no non-compete.

SAS did not learn until 2012 that FNA was earning over $1 million per year, that FNA was using SAS equipment and personnel, and that Ferrer also owned 40% of Retech, a major SAS customer.

SAS tried to acquire FNA but Ferrer decided instead to sell his interest in FNA and then several SAS employees joined FNA. SAS sued.

The court denied a preliminary injunction, finding no irreparable harm, but allowed the case to proceed on several issues. The case will be interesting to practitioners for two reasons: 1) the agreement allowing for competition but not solicitation presents interesting lessons and 2) the case contains a concise and well-written analysis, under New Jersey's UTSA, of the plaintiff's burden for proving misappropriation of trade secrets.

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