Cases from Other federal statute

District Court of Oregon
Ninth Circuit Continues Narrow Interpretation of CFAA

Plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit may want to avoid claims that an employee violated the CFAA after a court rejected a principal’s lawsuit against an online student prank. In Matot v. CH, the District Court of Oregon dismissed the suit, finding that the students’ use of the principal’s name and likeness gave no standing for a suit against the student perpetrators or their parents.

The court cited the Ninth Circuit’s decisions in LVRC Holdings LLC v. Brekka, 581 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2009) and United States v. Nosal, 676 F.3d 854, 862 (9th Cir. 2012), which held that claims under the CFAA fail where the court can “construe criminal statutes narrowly so that Congress will not unintentionally turn ordinary citizens into criminals.” Citing numerous press reports, the court held that lying on social media is common and can serve the purpose of law enforcement.

The court did admit that lying on social media can have serious consequences. Perhaps the most famous example of such consequences arose in United States v. Drew, 259 F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009), in which a mother posed as a teenage boy in order to cyber-bully her daughter's classmate, who ultimately committed suicide.

For more on this case, see Creating Parody Social Media Accounts Doesn't Violate Computer Fraud & Abuse Act – Matot v. CH on the blog of Eric Goldman, Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the school’s High Tech Law Institute.

D.C. Cir.
Dog Breeders Lose Reverse FOIA Suit

Missouri dog breeders sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent the release of business information to the Humane Society. The Humane Society had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2009 and the USDA made the decision to release the information in March, 2011. At that point, the Missouri dog breeders sued in a reverse FOIA action to prevent the release of the information.

The business information (known as block 8 from the form in which it is filed with the USDA) consists of: "(1) the total number of animals purchased and sold in the last year; (2) the gross revenue from regulated activities; and (3) for dealers that are not breeders, the difference between the purchase price and sale price of the animals sold."

The only trade secrets issue raised was 5 U.S.C.A. § 552b(c)(4) (West), which forbids an agency from releasing information that is "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential." This exemption is broader than the definition of trade secrets under UTSA or the common law. But once the USDA had determined that it could release the information, the agency's decision was subject only to arbitrary or capricious review by the court. The court noted that 1) Humane Society is not a competitor of the dog breeders, 2) that the information was stale and incomplete, and 3) that release would not significantly assist competitors in gauging the scale of a licensee’s operation because similar information was already in the public domain.

United States District Court N.D. Georgia (Atlanta Division)
Software Experience as a Trade Secret Claim Survived a Motion to Dismiss

The Northern District court of Georgia (Atlanta Division) denied a motion to dismiss a trade secret claim based on an end user license agreement (EULA). Plaintiff AirWatch provided sufficient evidence (for the purpose of defeating a motion to dismiss) that defendants, employees of Mobile Iron, had electronically signed a contract for a free trial that incorporated the EULA by reference. The EULA said, “the Software is provided to User for evaluation purposes,” that it was a “license to use the software solely for the purposes of testing and evaluating the software,” and that the user “shall not engage in competitive analysis.”

The court refused to dismiss all of plaintiff’s five claims. In addition to the breach of contract claim concerning the EULA, plaintiff brought claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), under the Georgia Trade Secrets Act, under the California Unfair Competition Law, and a tort claim for fraudulent misrepresentation.

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
U.S. International Trade Commission has authority to exclude from importation products manufactured using misappropriated trade secrets

The Federal Circuit held (2-1) on October 11, 2011 that the United States International Trade Commission (“USITC”) has the authority, pursuant to Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. §1337(a)(1)(A)), to ban importation of goods manufactured using “unfair methods of competition,” including misappropriation of trade secrets, where the importation could harm a domestic company. It found in this case that the USITC properly excluded under Section 337 railway wheels that were created using an allegedly misappropriated secret process, even though the misappropriation occurred in China. The decision, however, does not enjoin continuing manufacture of these railway wheels. Although the opinion focuses on whether a presumption against extraterritoriality applies to Section 337, it signifies that the U.S. Federal government is increasing protection of domestic companies' trade secrets.

Amsted Industries, Inc. (“Amsted”) is a domestic manufacturer of railroad components, including railway wheels made using the secret Griffin® and ABC processes. It licenses the manufacture of wheels using the ABC process to firms in China. TianRui Group Co. (“TianRui”) failed to obtain such a license from Amsted and, after failed negotiations, hired employees from another Amsted licensee firm, Datong ABC Castings Company, Ltd. (“Datong”). All of the Datong employees hired by Tianrui were trained in the ABC process and almost all signed confidentiality agreements. When TianRui imported railway wheels using the ABC process into the United States, Amsted filed a complaint with the USITC to exclude the wheels from importation. Amsted argued that continued importation would harm its business in the United States, even if the alleged trade secret misappropriation occurred in China. The USITC agreed with Amsted’s arguments and issued a limited exclusion order, which TianRui appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit's opinion was reported at 661 F.3d 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2011).

4th Circuit, United States District Court - Eastern District of Virginia
Kolon Pays $360 Million in Settlement to DuPont for Trade Secret Misappropriation

On April 30, 2015, Kolon Industries Inc. ("Kolon"), a South Korean company, agreed to pay $360 million to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. ("DuPont") after a lengthy trade secrets dispute over Kevlar technology.

On September 21, 2009, DuPont sued Kolon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Subsequently, Judge Robert Payne issued a spoilation-of-evidence order, adverse-inference jury instruction and attorneys fees for DuPont in response to Kolon's intentional destruction of evidence. In 2011, the jury awarded $919 to DuPont. In 2014, the Fourth Circuit overturned the jury verdict on the ground that Kolon was wrongly prevented from presenting trial evidence and assigned the case to a new judge.

Meanwhile, two former DuPont employees plead guilty to the involvement with the trade secret misappropriation in 2009 and 2014, and five former Kolon executives and employees where charged in 2012. Kolon finally started settlement talks with DuPont in light of the parallel jury trials in both civil and criminal courts.

Kolon pled guilty to conspiracy for stealing the Kevlar trade secrets. In turn, the company was sentenced to pay $85 million in criminal fines and $275 million in restitution damages in Eastern District of Virginia court. This was a land mark case for the U.S. Department of Justice as the first instance where a foreign corporation without direct presence in the United States was directly served with a U.S. criminal process based on an international treaty.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Fourth Circuit says CFAA does not apply to an employees unauthorized use of information where access to that information was authorized.

The Fourth Circuit has become the most recent Federal Court of Appeals to take a stance on the scope of the "without authorization" language of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Following the Ninth Circuit's recent en banc decision in Nosal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the CFAA does not apply where an employee is authorized to access a company computer system but is not authorized to use the information he accessed in the manner in which it was used (against the employer's interest). The ruling narrows the scope of the CFAA, a statute that is often used to obtain jurisdiction in federal courts by plaintiffs asserting trade secret misappropriation or other state law-based claims.

In WEC Carolina Energy Solutions, LLC v. Miller, No 11-1201, July 26, 2012, the Fourth Circuit upheld the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's CFAA claim. Defendant Miller had downloaded his employer's files onto his personal computer before resigning and used them in a presentation made on behalf of a competitor to a potential WEC customer. WEC claimed that because company policies did not permit the downloading of confidential and proprietary information to a personal computer, and because Miller had breached his fiduciary duties, Miller either lost all authorization to access the information or exceeded his authorization, both of which are violations under the CFAA. The Fourth Circuit held that in the absence of a restriction of access to the company's computers, the alleged acts did not violate the CFAA. The Court rejected the view held by the Seventh Circuit that by violating the duty of loyalty to an employer, the employee's agency relationship is terminated and the employee consequently loses any authority to access company computers. The Court also declined to adopt the Ninth Circuit interpretation of the CFAA, which they considered a harsher approach that could lead to unwarranted criminal liability. Ultimately, the Court held that improper use of information validly accessed from a computer does not violate the CFAA.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
Court Decides Several Motions to Seal Trade Secret Information in Microsoft Suit Against Motorola

On November 12, 2012, the Court decided a number of motions filed by both parties, as well as some non-parties, seeking to seal over 200 trial exhibits in relation to Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., in which Microsoft alleges that Defendants (collectively “Motorola”) breached its commitment to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (“IEEE-SA”) and International Telecommunications Union (“ITU”), as well as those organizations’ members and affiliates. Specifically, Microsoft alleges that Motorola broke its promises to offer licenses to its “essential” patents in the areas of wireless and video-coding technologies, as required by Motorola’s participation in the two organizations, respectively.

In deciding the motions, the court noted a strong presumption against sealing trial exhibits, recognizing the public interest in understanding the bases for adjudicatory decision-making. This presumption is rebuttable when the information at issue is either a trade secret, or where disclosure of the information might “harm a litigant’s competitive standing.” In addressing the different types of information included in the motions, the court drew a distinction between exhibits having little relevance to the underlying issue of the case, and those exhibits more directly related to the ultimate issue. For the former, the Court granted the motions to seal entirely. For the latter, the Court provisionally sealed the exhibits, meaning that such exhibits would not become public unless their contents were discussed by a testifying witness, or used as a basis for the Court’s ruling. The Court could not address all exhibits included in the motion, and agreed to hold daily conferences to determine requests to seal exhibits on a rolling basis throughout the trial.

The decision is important because it shows that companies can go to court to enforce their rights without necessarily losing trade secret protection. The court was generally receptive to the motions to seal, considering that some of the information did not rise to the level of trade secrets. That said, this decision also shows the uncertainty over trade secret protection that can accompany litigation, as the court's provisional seal leaves open the possibility for disclosure through testimony.

District of Columbia
DOJ settles suit against LucasFilm for alleged agreements not to compete for employees

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against LucasFilm for entering into agreements with Pixar to restrict employee recruiting practices, behavior that the DOJ felt constituted an antitrust violation. The complaint was brought solely against Lucasfilm because the DOJ had already addressed the conduct with Pixar in a previous suit, US v. Adobe Systems, a case which involved Adobe Systems, Inc., Apple Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corporation, Intuit, Inc., and Pixar.

A settlement was reached the same day that the suit was filed. LucasFilm said it would not enter into any agreement to refrain from competing for the employees of other businesses, but retained the right to unilaterally decide not to consider applications from employees of other companies.

On June 3, 2011, Judge Reggie B. Walton granted the DOJ’s motion for final judgment, pursuant to the settlement agreement, and closed the case.

Southern Division, United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan
How One Auto Parts Company Successfully Defended a Misappropriation Suit

Dana, a maker of car parts such as axles, recently lost a trade secrets misappropriation action against American Axle, a fierce competitor in the auto-parts industry, after three Dana employees downloaded Dana’s files and then went to work for American Axle. Dana's unsuccessful attempt to protect its trade secrets provides a useful lesson to practitioners about how to defend a misappropriation case.

The court’s decision was based on the following three main criteria: (1) Dana did not make a strong enough showing that American Axle was a direct and fierce competitor and American Axle successfully argued that it targets a different market segment (Asia instead of the United States); (2) Dana failed to show that American Axle used the trade secrets, and failed to show that the employees misused them. The court made this point by saying, “the fact that [some of the defendants] copied their work files before departing their employment does not create an inference that they did so in an attempt to steal confidential information from Dana or to bring that information to American Axle. Copying work files at the conclusion of employment does not, in and of itself, support an inference of suspect behavior”; and (3) American Axle was able to show that it did not poach the employees it hired since those employees had been laid off by Dana.

Additionally, “Dana had not previously enforced any prohibition against copying Dana files for personal use.” Defendant Adelman “said he copied the files so that he could review all the projects he had worked on before he updated his resume.” To remedy what might otherwise seem like a valid reason to copy such files, a company policy that states that company property cannot be taken for personal use could have strengthened Dana’s case. Dana lacked such a policy. To that effect, a company has to enforce its policy, not just print it and distribute it. Defendant Wenstrup testified that he was accompanied by a Dana HR employee when he went to his office after he was terminated and copied the entire contents of the “My Documents” file from his office computer to his personal computer. This type of corporate behavior opens the door for defendants to successfully argue that such behavior is tolerated by the plaintiff corporation.

Lastly, Dana's lawyers failed to properly organize the large volume of data that they claimed was stolen. The court noted that “[t]he manner in which the evidence was presented tended to blur the distinctions between what was confidential and what was not, what was reasonably protected and what was not, what was used and what was merely downloaded, what was copied and what was returned.” Since the first step of a successful misappropriation claim is to establish the existence of a trade secret, practitioners should be thorough and methodical about parsing out and encapsulating the confidential information and tracing a direct connection the defendants’ use of that information.

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decides to rehear United States v. Nosal en banc, ordering district courts to ignore panel decision

On April 10, 2012, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, writing for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (en banc), issued a final decision in the case United States v. Nosal, narrowly interpreting the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Chief Judge Kozinski’s opinion made clear his unwillingness to expand the reach of the CFAA for fear of criminalizing a wide range of seemingly innocuous behavior that Congress did not intend.

The particular facts of this case are not nearly as significant as the question of law and statutory interpretation presented, but briefly, the United States government brought charges against defendant David Nosal and his alleged accomplices for violations of the CFAA. Nosal was a former employee of executive search firm, Korn/Ferry International, while his suspected co-conspirators were current employees of the firm. The twenty-count superseding indictment alleged that current Korn/Ferry employees transferred confidential and proprietary information to Nosal from a confidential database of executives and companies, which was developed and maintained by Korn/Ferry and considered to be of great value to the company as against competitors.

The legal question presented was whether the employees “exceeded [their] authorized access” to the company computer system, within the meaning of the CFAA, when they transmitted confidential Korn/Ferry information to Nosal in violation of their employer’s computer use restrictions. The district court denied Nosal’s motion to dismiss the indictment at first, but later dismissed most of the counts against him after granting his motion to reconsider in light of the holding in LVRC Holdings LLC v. Brekka, 581 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2009). However, a 2-1 panel decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and reinstated counts of the indictment. The majority found factual distinctions from the present case to Brekka and held that “under the CFAA, an employee accesses a computer in excess of his or her authorization when that access violates the employer’s access restrictions.” 642 F.3d at 789.

On October 27, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Nosal’s petition for rehearing en banc, clarifying that the previous three-judge panel decision would hold no precedential value. Oral arguments were heard on December 15, 2011, and despite the circuit split now created over the scope of the CFAA, the en banc court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of several counts of the indictment. The April 10, 2012 decision held that “exceeds authorized access” in the CFAA pertains to violations of restrictions on access to information, and not restrictions on its use.