Cases from N/A

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 Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Jury Awards Fig Jam Maker Millions in First DTSA Verdict

On February 24, 2017, a federal jury handed down the first verdict under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA). Dalmatia Import Group and Maia Magee (“Plaintiffs”) develop and sell various flavors of high quality fig jam. After their business relationship deteriorated, Plaintiffs sued their former distributors, Foodmatch, Inc. and Lancaster Fine Foods, Inc. (“Defendants”). In the suit, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ competing fig jam impersonated Plaintiff’s product, more specifically, that Defendants stole the recipe for Plaintiff’s fig jam. Furthermore, Plaintiffs claimed that Defendants sold and distributed rejected jars of Plaintiff's fig spread, using Plaintiff’s trademark, without consent.

Plaintiffs brought claims for breach of contract, trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and misappropriation of trade secrets. After a four-week trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the jury found Defendants liable for misappropriation of trade secrets, trademark infringement and counterfeiting. The jury awarded Plaintiffs $2.5 million in damages, which Plaintiffs’ attorneys estimate will double to roughly $5 million after the damages are trebled. Plaintiffs' attorneys also stated the court will issue an injunction enjoining Defendants from using Plaintiff’s trade secrets in the future.

The case is Dalmatia Import Group v. Foodmatch, Inc. et al., 16-cv-02767 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2017).

Austin Division, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
Texas Agency Sued in Trade Secrets Lawsuit

On November 17, 2016 pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc. (“Pfizer”) sued Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission (“HHSC”) in federal court. Pfizer alleges that the HHSC misappropriated confidential information regarding its prices and rebate information for Texas Medicaid when it revealed the information to state lawmakers.

Pfizer claims the HHSC sent confidential detailed information regarding its drug prices and rebate protocol to two state senators. In its complaint, Pfizer argues this was a violation of 42 U.S.C. §1396r-8(b)(3)(D), which, in part, states that information disclosed by manufacturers or wholesalers is confidential, and cannot be disclosed a state agency. Furthermore, Pfizer alleges the HHSC violated a Texas law, which also prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of information obtained by the HHSC regarding drug rebate negotiations or other related trade secrets. Pfizer also claims that the HHSC has refused to specifically disclose which company information it released to the senators. Pfizer expresses concern in its complaint that the pricing information released would give competitors an unfair advantage in bidding situations.

Pfizer seeks a declaratory judgment in its favor and injunctive relief to prevent further release of its confidential information.

The case is Pfizer, Inc. v. Texas Health and Human Services Commission et al.

Pfizer’s complaint can be found here:
http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/pfizer-inc-v-texas-health-and-human-services-commission-et-al/filings/pfizer-inc-v-texas-healt

Suffolk County Superior Court
America’s Test Kitchen Sues Former Host for Misappropriating Tasty Trade Secrets

America’s Test Kitchen Inc. (“Plaintiff”) owns multimedia publications and productions, including television programs such as America’s Test Kitchen, cooking magazines and books, and several websites. Plaintiff sued Christopher Kimball (“Defendant”), a celebrity chef and the former host of its TV shows. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant misappropriated its trade secrets and breached his fiduciary duty to the company. Plaintiff filed the lawsuit on October 31, 2016.

Defendant left Plaintiff’s program in November 2015, and recently developed his own program called Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant created his company using its image to attract new customers, and marketed his program as an enhanced version of America’s Test Kitchen. Plaintiff also contends that Defendant stole from its collection of recipes, TV show ideas, media contacts, and subscriber information. It seems Plaintiff and Defendant did not have a formal non-compete agreement in place.

Plaintiff is seeking damages against Defendant and a disgorgement of all profits that he has derived through the use of the trade secrets he allegedly misappropriated from America’s Test Kitchen. Plaintiff’s complaint also names Melissa Baldino (Defendant’s wife), Christine Gordon, and Deborah Broide as defendants, and claims that they aided and abetted Defendant’s breach of his fiduciary duties.

The case is America’s Test Kitchen, Inc., v. Christopher Kimball et al., 1684-cv-03325.

Plaintiff’s complaint can be found here: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/americas-test-kitchen-v-christopher-kimball-et-al/filings/america%E2%80%99s-test-kitchen-sues-former-h

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 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.

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

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.

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.

Supreme Court of Texas
"Treasure Map" Misappropriation Award Upheld in Texas

On March 13, 2015, the Texas Supreme Court denied review of Lamont et al v. Vaquillas Energy Lopeno, Ltd. et al, thereby upholding a $4.9 million jury award for Vaquillas in its trade secret misappropriation suit. At the center of the dispute is the seismic map of oil and gas prospects that Ricochet Energy, Inc. generated pursuant to an agreement with Vaquillas in 2003 and 2004. The seismic map, or “treasure map” as both parties had referred to it, had identified a lucrative prospect – a gas reservoir containing natural gas estimated as much as $60 million.

The instant controversy began when Thomas Lamont, a co-owner of Ricochet, separated from Ricochet in 2006, and then formed a new entity, Montecristo II, with another oil and gas investor, Rosendo Carranco in 2007. Because Lamont had continued to own a working interest in the gas prospect, after Lamont’s separation, Ricochet shared the treasure map with Lamont as a potential investor, without signing any confidentiality agreements. Montecristo II then outbid Ricochet to lease property adjacent to the gas reservoir, and depleted it, foreclosing any opportunity for Ricochet to withdraw any gas.

On appeal from the jury’s verdict in favor of Vaquillas, Lamont argued that the trade secret’s status was destroyed when Ricochet shared the treasure map with Lamont after his effective resignation date. However, the court noted that the disclosure to Lamont was in his role as a potential investor, and as such, the limited disclosure did not destroy its trade secret status. The disclosure was never meant to enable a potential investor to compete directly against Ricochet, but instead, to work with them in an investment opportunity. Further, the court noted that Ricochet took proper means to protect its trade secret, by keeping it a secret from its employees, competitors, and the public. Next, the appellate court concluded there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that Lamont and Carranco’s actions fell below the generally accepted standards of commercial morality, because they used improper means to locate the gas reservoir when they misused the map. Notably, Lamont and Carranco had never conducted any independent research, indicating their reliance on the map, which they used to enrich themselves off of Ricochet’s work and investment.

While Texas adopted a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, it only took effect on September 1, 2013, and does not apply to prior misappropriation. As such, in the instant case, the appellate court relied heavily on the 3rd Restatement of Unfair Competition, which notably, is aligned with the Act. Therefore, this case is still persuasive in situations where a company must rely on common law to protect its trade secrets if it is in a state where the UTSA, or any version of the model Act, has not been adopted. Further, and more significantly, this case demonstrates that companies which did not employ confidentially or non-disclosure agreements, may still be protected in the scenario a potential business investor misuses their secrets. While certainly helpful in situations where negotiations could be stalled for such agreements, it is always better to employ these agreements, if for no other reason than it may define the scope of litigation.