Recently Filed Cases

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October 18, 2012 | 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 . . . .”

October 12, 2012 | Superior Court of the State of California
Zynga Alleges Ex-Employee Used a Personal Dropbox Account to Steal the Company's Trade Secrets

On October 12, 2012, Zynga Inc. (“Zynga”) brought suit in California Superior Court against former employee Alan Patmore for Misappropriation of Trade Secrets and Breach of Contract. The suits concerns theft of confidential information related to Zynga’s online games, and includes additional defendants (“DOES 1 through 50”) whom Zynga does not yet know the identity of, but who allegedly aided and abetted Patmore’s wrongful conduct.

Zynga, Inc. is a San Francisco-based online social gaming company, responsible for popular games such as CityVille and Words With Friends. Patmore was the General Manager for CityVille at Zynga, and signed a Confidentially Agreement with Zynga pursuant to his employment. The contract obligated Patmore to protect Zynga’s confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information. However, on August 16, 2012, Patmore resigned from Zynga. Zynga alleges that at that time (if not earlier), Patmore had been recruited by, and agreed to join, Zynga’s competitor Kixeye. On the day of his departure, Patmore allegedly transferred 760 confidential Zynga files to his personal Dropbox account without Zynga’s consent, which he intended to provide to Kixeye. During Patmore’s exit interview, he refused to sign a Termination Certification that he had complied with his prior contractual obligations.

Zynga alleged that the stolen information – which includes “unreleased game design documents” and other “strategic roadmaps”– could be used to improve Kixeye’s “internal understand and know-how of core game mechanics and monetization techniques, its execution, and ultimately its marketing standing to compete more effectively with Zynga.” According to the complaint, Patmore attempted to cover up his conduct by uninstalling Dropbox. However, Patmore’s attempts were apparently unsuccessful, and “he left a forensics trial of his wrongful conduct.” Both the relatively new subject matter of the claim (i.e. “free-to-play online social games”), as well as the defendant’s alleged use of cloud technology to misappropriate his employer’s trade secrets, make this an interesting case and one to follow as the litigation moves forward.

UPDATE: Kixeye's CEO Will Harbin fired back at Zynga: "Zynga is burning to the ground and bleeding top talent and instead of trying to fix the problems -- better work environment and better products -- they are resorting to the only profit center that has ever really worked for them: their legal department." Two weeks after making that statement, Zynga expanded the suit to include Kixeye as named Defendants.

October 4, 2012 | 234th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas
Trade Secret Holder Files for Injunctive Relief After Employee Confesses to Accepting Bribe from Competitor

On October 4, 2012, National Oilwell Varco LP (“NOV”) petitioned for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and Injunction against its competitor Ceram-Kote, Inc., (“Ceram-Kote”), Ceram-Kote’s President Kevin Freeman, and former NOV employee Nelson Calderon (collectively “Defendants”). NOV brought the suit in Texas State court to stop Ceram-Kote from producing a “knock-off blast unit” that Ceram-Kote allegedly misappropriated from NOV.

NOV claims that “Ceram-Kote along with its president, Kevin Freeman, secretly recruited and paid Nelson Calderson – while he was still working at [NOV] --to build a knock-off of a . . . sophisticated piece of [NOV] industrial machinery,” which was an NOV trade secret. Calderon had access to highly confidential information by virtue of his employment with NOV, and had signed multiple confidentially agreement with the company. After NOV received an anonymous tip about a possible knock-off blast unit at Ceram-Kote, it approached Calderon, who confessed to accepting a bribe from Freeman and providing him with confidential designs.

Per NOV’s filing: “Rather than investing in research and development themselves, they decided to cheat — by paying a [NOV] employee $40,000 to design a large scale blast unit for them by using [NOV's] proprietary technology.” In addition to NOV’s claim for misappropriation of trade secrets pursuant to the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act, NOV brought additional causes of action for breach of contract[s], tortious interference with a contract, conversion, conspiracy, unjust enrichment and constructive trust.

September 20, 2012 | Superior Court of the State of California
Former Stage Designer Sues Mötley Crüe Over Idea For "Tommy Lee Loop Coaster"

On September 20, 2012, Howard Scott King brought suit against popular rock band Mötley Crüe (itself, its touring company and bassist Tommy Lee as an individual, collectively “MC”), for misappropriation of trade secrets in the Superior Court of California. The suit relates to MC’s allegedly unlawful use of King’s proposal for a “Tommy Lee Loop Coaster” (“Coaster”).

According to his complaint, King developed the idea for the Coaster as part of his now defunct business “Stages ‘N’ Motion.” King described it as “a track on which [Tommy Lee] would play his drums on a platform on wheels which follow the track until Lee was in an upside down position playing the drums and he would continue playing the drums as the platform followed the track in a complete loop.” On or about November 21, 1991, King alleged that he discussed a proposal for the Coaster with Top Rock Development Corp. (MC’s agents). King claims that both the proposal, as well as a signed confidentiality agreement (which has since been lost or misplaced), expressly stated that the ideas were confidential, and that King was to be compensated should MC implement the Coaster. In June 2011, MC begin using the Coaster, or a substantially similar device, as a centerpiece for concerts, as well as in commercials and other promotions.

(link to video of device in question)

King brings trade secret misappropriation actions under both the California Uniform Trade Secret Act (CUTSA), as well as common law. The key difference between the claims is that the CUTSA claim seeks relief in the form of actual damages ($400,000), or in the alternative, a “reasonable royalty”; conversely, the common law claim does not seek a reasonable royalty damages award. Both claims seek injunctive relief, as well as punitive damages in light of MC’s alleged “willful and malicious” conduct.

August 21, 2012 | United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Department of Justice Brings Criminal Trade Secret Misappropriation Charges Relating to Alleged Theft of DuPont's Kevlar™ Technology

On October 18, 2012, the Department of Justice unsealed an August 21st indictment against Kolon Industries, Inc. and five its executives (“Kolon”) in relation to Kolon’s alleged theft of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company’s (“Dupont”) Trade Secrets. The government brought criminal trade secret misappropriation charges pursuant to the Economic Espionage Act, accusing Kolon of engaging in massive industrial espionage over a six-year period in an effort to steal Dupont’s proprietary Kevlar™ technology.

DuPont had previously brought civil charges against Kolon in relation to the same alleged misconduct, which resulted in a damage award of almost $920 million and injunctive relief. In a statement responding to the charges, Kolon’s counsel accused the DOJ of “effectively assist[ing] DuPont in improperly extending [the company’s] monopoly over [Kevlar] technology beyond the limited term provided by the U.S. Patent laws.”

August 6, 2012 | 295th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas
Baker Hughes Accuses Departing Scientist of Leaving Confidential Information

On August 6, 2012, Plaintiffs Baker Hughes Incorporated and Baker Petrolite Corporation (collectively “Baker”) filed an application seeking a temporary restraining order, and a temporary and permanent injunction against its former employee, Defendant Jun Tian (“Tian”). Plaintiffs allege Defendant misappropriated “confidential information and trade secrets, resigned from [Plaintiffs’ company], and went to work for a direct competitor, Multi-Chem Group LLC (‘Multi-Chem’).” Defendant has refused to return said information, and Plaintiffs seek to enjoin Tian from every using or disclosing it.

Plaintiffs offered specific details regarding the events leading up to the lawsuit. Tian was a Senior Development Engineer on Plaintiffs’ “Flow Assurance” work group, as part of which he played “a critical research and development role,” had access to confidential information and was “a listed inventor on several patents and patent applications.” Tian entered into an explicit “Employment Agreement” with Plaintiff that barred him from disclosing Plaintiffs’ confidential information. After resigning, Tian allegedly acted “suspiciously” and was “tight-lipped” at his exit interview. This, combined with reports from fellow employees that Tian had downloaded work files to an external harddrive prior to his departure, lead Plaintiffs to perform a forensics investigation of Tian’s harddrive. At the close of the investigation, Plaintiffs concluded that Defendant had transferred proprietary information to an external harddrive without authorization.

In addition to the trade secrets misappropriation claim, Plaintiffs also allege causes of action for breach of contract, threatened misappropriation/inevitable disclosure, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and conversion.

One of the first issues that will likely arise is the fact that Plaintiffs did not specify exactly what confidential information Tian allegedly took. Plaintiffs are understandably hesitant to commit this information to public record, and will likely seek a protective order and/or in camera review by the Judge. Interestingly, even if Plaintiffs fail to prove that Tian took confidential information, the court could still bar Defendant from working at Multi-Chem through the inevitable disclosure claim.

July 10, 2012 | Circuit Court of St. Louis
Designing Group Claims Anheuser-Busch Pilfered Group's Confidential Design For a Home Beer Tap

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.

May 12, 2012 | Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware
Fashion Designer Tory Burch Claims Ex-Husband Stole Her Trade Secrets to Create Knock-Off Brand

On November 5, 2012, fashion designer Tory Burch filed a counterclaim against ex-husband J. Christopher Burch in the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware. Ms. Burch’s allegations include: Breach of Fiduciary Duty; Breach of Contract; Unfair Competition; and Misappropriation of Trade Secrets pursuant to the Delaware Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“DUTSA”). The counterclaim is in response to Mr. Burch’s original complaint that accused Ms. Burch of Breach of Contract and Tortious Interference.

The conflict stemmed from the October 2011 launch of Mr. Burch’s brand “C-Wonder,” which included a storefront in New York City near Ms. Burch’s original SoHo shop. Ms. Burch alleges that – although she original gave Mr. Burch her approval to launch C-Wonder – he had mislead Ms. Burch by claiming the store would be selling “an assortment of diverse products, including home goods . . . [and] nondescript apparel . . . .” However, Ms. Burch claims that Mr. Burch actually used confidential information that he obtained while serving as both Co-chairperson of, and consultant to, Tory Burch LLC to create a “knock-off” store that sold “cheapened, lower-quality version[s] of . . . Tory Burch brand [items].” Both positions (Co-chairperson and consultant) required Mr. Burch to sign agreements with explicit confidentiality provisions. Ms. Burch claims that her ex-husband personally admitted to “wrongdoing on several occasions.”

Pursuant to the DUTSA, the counterclaim alleges that Mr. Burch used improper means to acquire Tory Burch LLC’s trade secrets, which the company had taken reasonable efforts to protect. Ms. Burch alleges her trade secret information includes “highly confidential data compilations, business methods, techniques . . . .” She is seeking both injunctive and equitable relief.

On December 31, 2012, both parties agreed to a confidential settlement. Businessweek reports that Mr. Burch has agreed to sell half of his share in Tory Burch, LLC, and there's no indication he will be forced to close his C. Wonder product line.

May 10, 2012 | U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
CBS Broadcasting sues ABC, Inc. and affiliates for misappropriating secret production processes for the hit CBS show, “Big Brother”

CBS Broadcasting, Inc. (“CBS”) filed suit against ABC, Inc. and the Walt Disney Co. on May 10, 2012 in the Central District of California, alleging trade secrets misappropriation amongst nine other claims. CBS claims that defendants, in developing a new series “Life in a Glass House,” misappropriated CBS’ trade secrets about several production processes for the “Big Brother” reality television show. CBS argues that these processes are unique in the industry and make the show successful by enabling the “Big Brother” staff to “prep, produce, edit and deliver each episode in two and a half days.” It adds that the defendants (and anyone else) could not have independently discovered the processes by merely watching the show. Rather, CBS believes that ABC improperly acquired knowledge about these processes from former “Big Brother” producers and staff who have signed non-disclosure agreements with CBS but are now working for ABC on “Life in a Glass House.”

CBS requested a preliminary injunction in order to stop ABC from premiering the show, however U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess said he is unlikely to grant it.

May 3, 2012 | 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.

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