Cases from Superior Court of the State of 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

County of Los Angeles, Superior Court of the State of California
Clash between Hollywood talent agency and competitor over stolen client information

Hollywood talent agency Diverse Talent Group, Inc. sued three of its former agents who left for a competitor, but not before allegedly stealing confidential information to poach clients. In the suit, filed August 23, 2011 in Los Angeles Superior Court, Diverse alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, intentional interference, breaches of duty and contract, conversion, and slander. The agency also sought a temporary restraining order prohibiting the disclosure or use of proprietary information. According to its website, Diverse represents actors and directors from TV shows like "Mad Men" and "Lost."

The complaint alleges that former Diverse employees Isam Durzi, Ehab Durzi and Wendy Morrison left Diverse to join Function Talent Group (also named as a defendant) and diverted business to their new employer by using confidential client information misappropriated from Diverse and by falsely claiming their former agency was closing. The three supposedly used the confidential materials, such as customer lists and the personal and financial information of clients, to poach those clients for Function. "Defendants have taken the confidential information without the permission of Diverse and have used it for their own financial gain and business purposes," the suit said. "Despite demands to cease and desist from using this information, defendants continue to use the confidential information." Diverse demanded that the files be returned, but the employees refused, according to the complaint.

Diverse claims that the Durzis and Morrison agreed as a condition of their employment that the agency's client list and other customer information were property of the agency. According to the complaint, the three accepted positions at Function earlier this year, but before they started their new jobs, the employees sent letters to Diverse customers soliciting them to take their business to Function. The letters made "false, defamatory and damaging statements," including that Diverse was going out of business, according to the complaint. The complaint goes on to say that they had some success, causing the termination of some of the plaintiff’s client representations.

The complaint also asserts that the employees "hacked into Diverse's computer system and changed the agency's contact information," and sent messages to clients instructing them to contact Ehab Durzi using the newly-diverted number.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, an injunction barring the employees from disclosing Diverse's confidential information and an order compelling them to arbitrate the dispute. According to the complaint, Diverse expects the dispute to be headed to arbitration as a result of employment agreements with the three former agents, but the company says it was forced to seek provisional remedies to deter the diversion of its clients.

The talent agency says on its website that its "highly valued clientele" includes "Academy Award winners, top sitcom actors, one-hour drama directors, editors and producers." The site states that the agency's clients have worked on shows including "The Big Bang Theory" and "Battlestar Galactica" and movies including "Transformers" and "Good Night and Good Luck."

The parties are scheduled to appear before Judge Meiers for a case-management conference on January 10, 2012.