Peter Toren is an intellectual property litigator with over 30 years of experience. He is presently located in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in forms of intellectual property litigation, but specifically handles trade secret misappropriation and associated matters, as well as computer law and cybersecurity matters. Before moving back to the D.C. area, Peter was a partner in the New York office of Sidley Austin. Before that, he was a federal prosecutor with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (“CCIPs”) of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. Peter worked at the CCIP over eight years, and also served as Acting Deputy Chief. While with the DOJ, he was involved with a number of the first prosecutions under the Economic Espionage Act. Peter has first-chaired several patent and trademark trials and dozens of Markman, preliminary injunction and summary judgment hearings in federal courts throughout the United States. He is also the author of Intellectual Property & Computer Crime and a co-author of The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 Handbook.
Almost five years has passed since the enactment of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) on May 11, 2016, which provides for civil relief for the theft of trade secrets. The most controversial provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1836(b)(2), authorizes a federal court to issue an order, in extraordinary circumstances, and upon an ex parte application based on an affidavit or verified complaint, to provide for seizure of property necessary to preserve evidence or to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret. Thus, the issuance of a seizure order is limited to “extraordinary circumstances.” According to the House Report, the “ex parte seizure provision is expected to be used in instances in which a defendant is seeking to flee the country or planning to disclose the trade secret to a third party immediately or is otherwise not amenable to the enforcement of the court’s orders.” In other words, it is intended to stop the dissemination of a trade secret, especially overseas, before its value has been lost through public disclosure. Thus, it provides a trade secret owner with the ability to mitigate the risk that trade secrets are irrevocably lost, transferred, or moved beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
Two of the most important issues in trade secret cases involve the timing of when the plaintiff is required to identify its alleged trade secrets and the degree of specificity with which they must be identified. However, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) fails to address either of these issues, and most state courts have not agreed on unform standards. In comparison, for example, under Section 2019.210 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff is required to identify its alleged trade secrets with reasonable particularity “to limit the permissible scope of discovery by distinguishing the trade secrets from matters of general knowledge in the trade or of special knowledge of those persons skilled in the trade.” Now the Ninth Circuit in InteliClear LLC v. ETC Global Holdings, Inc., 978 F. F. 3d. 653 (9th Cir. 2020) has held that the DTSA also includes the requirement that the plaintiff must identify, depending on the stage of the litigation, with sufficient particularity to provide the defendant with notice as to the identity of the trade secrets at issue.
One of the key trade secret trends in 2020 that was not mentioned by James Pooley in his excellent recap of the year’s trends was the continued focus by the government on Chinese economic espionage. Last year marked the two-year anniversary of the Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” which was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on November 1, 2018, and which was intended to increase the focus on the investigation and prosecution of trade secret theft and economic espionage under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA) and other “unfair trade practices” committed by the Chinese government and Chinese Nationals. The China Initiative reflects the strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces the government’s overall national security plan. The China Initiative is led by the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, which is responsible for countering nation-state threats to the United States.
In Van Buren v. United States, argued December 1, the Supreme Court has a chance to address how the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applies when a defendant is authorized to access and obtain information from a computer but subsequently uses this information for a purpose that is not permitted. The outcome of this case is important to every company that has computer data and will provide guidance on how best to protect that data.
Plaintiffs in trade secret cases are often faced with the difficulty of protecting their trade secrets, especially during trial, when different rules apply than during the pre-trial proceedings. It certainly makes little sense for a party to seek to prevent a defendant from disclosing their trade secrets only to have them disclosed to the public during discovery or trial. In recognition of this dilemma, Congress included Section 1835(b) (“Rights of Trade Secrets Owners) in the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which seeks to address this issue by requiring district courts to permit the trade secret owner the “the opportunity to file a submission under seal that describes the interest of the owner in keeping the information confidential.”
On August 20, the Seventh Circuit in Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd & Tata America Interntional Corp d/b/a/ TCS America No. 1950 (7th Cir. Aug. 20, 2020) upheld an award of damages against Tata for theft of trade secrets relating to Epic’s health care software. After a jury trial in 2016, a jury found that Tata must pay $240 million in a compensatory damages to Epic, and $700 million in punitive damages. The district court later struck $100 million in compensatory damages and reduced the punitive damage award from $700 million to $280 million under a Wisconsin statute that caps punitive damage awards at two times compensatory damages. In the August 20 decision, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that the jury could award punitive damages but found that the $280 million punitive damages amount was excessive and remanded the case with instructions to reduce that award.
Part 1of this article addressed the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Compulife Software, Inc. v. Newman, __ F.3d __, 2020 WL 2549505, (11th Cir. May 20, 2020) and the court’s dubious conclusion that information “scraped” from a public website could be a trade secret. In particular, on this issue, the court held that even if the “scraped quotes were not individually protectable trade secrets because each is readily available to the public…taking enough of them must amount to misappropriation of the underlying secret at some point. Part II will address the understanding of “improper means” under trade secret law and whether the Eleventh Circuit was correct in determining that the use of bots to scrape a very large amount of information from a website can constitute “improper means” for acquiring such information.
Much has already been written in a relatively short period of time since the Eleventh Circuit decided Compulife Software, Inc. v. Newman, __ F.3d __, 2020 WL 2549505, (11th Cir. May 20, 2020). However, such commentaries have not addressed whether this decision is legally supportable and whether other circuits should follow this decision, which would provide a legal basis for website operators under certain circumstances to pursue unwarranted scraping of their websites. This is particularly important because the Supreme Court is currently considering whether to grant certiorari in a case involving whether website scraping is legal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Depending on the outcome of this matter, website operators may be extremely restricted to prevent scraping under that statute.