The DTSA amends the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (“EEA”) to provide for civil remedies in federal courts for the misappropriation of trade secrets. The new Section 1836(b) provides for both equitable and monetary relief. Subsection 1836(b)(3) authorizes a federal court to grant an injunction to prevent actual or threatened misappropriation of trade secrets. The language is identical to § 2 of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”). However, there are a number of limitations as to when a court may issue an injunction under the DTSA. First, the injunction may not “(I) prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship, and that conditions placed on such employment shall be based on evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows ….” Section 1836(b)(3)(A)(i)(I).
The DTSA amends the federal Economic Espionage Act of 1996 to create, for the first time, a federal civil remedy for the misappropriation of trade secrets. This new law provides a clear path to enforce trade secret rights in federal court. Proponents of the DTSA argue that this will lead to more uniformity and predictability in applicable standards. However, that remains to be seen. The DTSA does not preempt any existing state laws governing trade secret enforcement. Accordingly, to the extent that state laws differ from each other and the DTSA, the differences will likely persist despite the new federal scheme.
While trade secrets have become more important, advances in electronics like flash drives and smartphones have made data theft almost infinitely easier and faster. And unlike the threats of a generation ago, when trade secret theft typically benefited a local competitor, globalization of business means that today’s insiders often steal on behalf of companies located in other states or countries.
Employers often assume that they have the same weapons in their arsenal to prevent theft of virtual trade secrets as they have against other types of loss. As the prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov in Federal and New York courts showed, however, that simply isn’t true. Even though juries in both courts found him guilty of downloading confidential computer code from his employer, judges ultimately found that the laws under which he was prosecuted did not cover the acts he committed. A careful employer should therefore make sure it puts precautions in place that prevent theft of computer code, rather than relying on the threat of criminal prosecution.
Aleynikov was a computer programmer employed by Goldman Sachs to write high-frequency trading code. In 2009, he accepted a job offer to join a potential competitor, where he would create a new high-frequency trading platform from the ground up. Before he left Goldman, however, he sent portions of Goldman’s high frequency trading code to a German server for his own future use. After Goldman found out, it went to the FBI; Aleynikov was then arrested on a flight home from a visit to Chicago. With that arrest began his circuitous journey through the U.S. legal system, governed by two different sovereigns and under two different legal regimes.