Cases from N/A

American Arbitration Association
Halliburton Served with $300 Million Demand for Arbitration over Trade Secret Theft

On February 21, 2013, Ecosphere Technologies, Inc. (“Ecosphere”) put industry giant Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. (“Halliburton”) on notice of a Demand for Arbitration ("Demand") that Ecosphere filed with the American Arbitration Association. The Demand alleges that “Halliburton took and disclosed Ecosphere’s trade secrets and proprietary technical, business and strategic information.”

Ecosphere is a water engineering, technology licensing and innovative manufacturing company that develops non-chemical water treatment solutions for industrial markets throughout the world. According to a press release from Ecosphere's counsel, Haliburton misappropriated Ecosphere's trade secret information related to hydro-fracking liquids, in violation of a non-disclosure agreement between the companies. Ecosphere had initially contracted to share the information with Haliburton. However, after Haliburton made a failed attempt to purchase Ecosphere outright, Haliburton continued to use Ecosphere’s trade secrets without authorization “to immediately market itself as an environmentally friendly company . . . .” The Demand claims $300 million in damages.

The issue of trade secrets in hyrdo-fracking has become a hotbed for litigation and legislation. TSI recently covered state attempts to legislate the issue. It was also a main topic at the 2012 TSI Symposium, “Private Data/Public Good: Emerging Issues in Trade Secrets Law.

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.

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.

Circuit Court of Cook County, Chancery Division
Three employees sued by Groupon for breach of a non-compete agreement counter Groupon's lawsuit is a "sham litigation"

The three employees whom Groupon, Inc. (“Groupon”) sued on October 21, 2011 filed a counterclaim against Groupon on January 25, 2012. The three former employees, Nikki Dorough, Brian Hanna and Michael Nolan, countered that the coupon company pursued a "sham litigation" and requested the Illinois state court to void the noncompete provisions in their Groupon employment contracts.

The employees now work Google Offers, a directly competing discount service started by Google, Inc. (“Google”) after Groupon rejected Google’s buy-out. Groupon alleged in its complaint that the employees, were provided with proprietary and confidential information relating to Groupon’s business practices and strategies, such as Groupon’s price structures and deals with merchants, its timing of the deals and its list of current and potential merchants.

Dorough, Hanna and Nolan began work for Google Offers allegedly in breach of their non-compete agreement with Groupon which bars them from working with a direct competitor for 24 months after leaving the company. Groupon does not claim that Hanna and Nolan already disclosed the above trade secrets to Google or stole any trade secrets, in violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act. Rather, it alleges that Hanna and Nolan would inevitably disclose the trade secrets to Google because Google Offers directly competes with Groupon. According to Groupon, the “ongoing and/or threatened” disclosure by Hanna and Nolan would cause the company irreparable harm if the two employees are not enjoined from continuing their activities at Google Offers.

The inevitable disclosure doctrine is preemptively used by a court to prevent disclosure of a trade secret where a former employee’s “new employment will inevitably lead him to rely on [a former employer’s] trade secrets.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Redmont, 54 F.3d 1262, 1269 (7th Cir. 1995). The doctrine is not universally adopted and even limited in some jurisdictions. See , e.g., EarthWeb, Inc. v. Schlack, 71 F. Supp. 2d 299 (S.D.N.Y. 1999). The doctrine may prevent a former employee from working with a direct competitor even if the employee was never subject to a non-compete agreement and attempts in good faith to prevent using his knowledge of a former employer’s trade secrets. See PepsiCo, 54 F.3d at 1270 (finding that even though no trade secrets were stolen or misappropriated, defendant, PepsiCo, Inc.’s former employee, could not help but rely on Pepsi’s confidential and proprietary information on how to price, distribute and market sports drinks in his work for Quaker Oats Company’s competing GATORADE branded sports drinks).

District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Marketing vendor alleges that Procter & Gamble misappropriated its strategic marketing plan

On August 2008, Electronic Arts (“EA”) launched Procter and Gamble’s ("P&G") joined together to promote P&G’s subsidiary Gillette. The strategic alliance is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by Alternative Productions, Inc. (“API”) against P&G in Massachusetts federal court on August 23, 2011.

API alleges that a former P&G marketing consultant, Michael Fuccillo, approached it in June 2007 to discuss a strategic plan for a Nascar promotional campaign for Gillette. API delivered a marketing plan which included the “novel idea of establishing online, console-based gaming tournaments” through a partnership with EA. Fuccillo, however, informed API that Gillete had rejected the plan, which nonetheless became integrated into a larger marketing campaign produced by Gillette’s principal advertising agency.

API asserts that Fuccillo shared its strategic alliance plan with other P&G employees, in breach of his non-disclosure agreement with API. Additionally, it argues that P&G knew or should have known that the alliance plan with EA did not originate with Fuccillo, whose duties at P&G did not include creating marketing ideas.

Defendant's motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction is currently pending before the Court.

Santa Clara County, Superior Court of California
PayPal files suit against Google for misappropriation of trade secrets after Google woos over a former PayPal senior executive

Paypal, Inc. (“PayPal”) and eBay, Inc. (“eBay) sued Google, Inc. (“Google”) and Osama Bedier, a former PayPal senior executive, alleging that Bedier and Google misappropriated PayPal’s confidential marketing research, point-of-sale (“POS”) technology and services for retailers, and mobile payment strategies and procedures.

Before the suit, PayPal sought to serve as a payment option for mobile app purchases on Google’s Android market. Bedier was then the senior executive leading negotiations between PayPal and Google to set up the business relationship. However, during the final steps of the negotiations, Bedier interviewed for a position at Google without notice to PayPal. He terminated employment at PayPal and began work for Google’s Mobile Payments division on January 24, 2011. PayPal alleges that Bedier left the company with knowledge of its trade secrets for retail POS technology and services and mobile payment. Additionally, it claims that Bedier transferred and possessed upon departure PayPal’s and eBay’s confidential information on his personal computers.

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
Zebra Enterprise Solutions Changes Venue and Files for Declaratory Judgment

On June 10, 2015, Lynx Systems Developers Inc. (“Lynx”) sued Zebra Enterprise Solutions Corp. (“Zebra”) in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts for a number of claims including misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and fraud. The dispute between the two parties stemmed from a joint venture the parties engaged in to build a system that would track NFL football players’ actions in real time using hardware installed in players’ shoulder pads. The business relationship between the parties disintegrated and the parties then developed competing tracking systems independently. After Zebra won a contract with the NFL, Lynx brought the initial suit in Massachusetts District Court.

Last week, in response to the complaint, Zebra filed a motion to dismiss the suit in Massachusetts District Court and on August 20, 2015, brought a new complaint against Lynx in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Santa Clara, California. Zebra’s complaint pleads for declaratory relief of no (1) trade secret misappropriation, (2) breach of contract, (3) interference with existing and advantageous business relationships, (4) fraud, (5) breach of fiduciary duty, (6) unfair competition or unfair or deceptive acts, (7) unjust enrichment, (8) conversion, and (9) intentional interference with prospective contractual and advantageous business and economic relationships. The California case is filed under docket number 115CV284620.

California Superior Court of San Francisco County
Employee Sues Google for Overbroad Confidentiality Agreements

Plaintiff “John Doe,” a project manager at Google, sued the company in California State Court, claiming they illegally require employees to sign broad confidentiality agreements. Doe filed the complaint in the California Superior Court of San Francisco County on December 20, 2016.

The agreements essentially state that Google employees cannot disclose any company information that is not generally known with anyone, including other Google employees. According to the complaint, these confidentiality agreements are contrary to state law because they can prevent employees from discussing their wages or disclosing information to government agencies. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that Google enforces its confidentiality policy through an internal program called “Stopleaks” which essentially asks employees to spy on each other and report any disclosure of confidential information.

Google defends the confidentiality agreements as an attempt to protect sensitive company information and maintains it is committed to maintaining an open culture within the company.

The case is Doe vs. Google Inc. et al., Docket No. CGC16556034 (Cal. Super. Ct. Dec. 20, 2016). A copy of Doe’s complaint can be found here: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/doe-vs-google-inc-et-al/filings/employee-sues-google-overbroad-confidentiality-agreements