Last week, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) issued a notice in the Matter of “Certain Botulinum Toxin Products, Processes for Manufacturing or Relating to Same and Certain Products Containing Same,” Investigation No. 337-TA-1145, stating that the ITC has “determined to review in part a final initial determination (FID) of the presiding administrative law judge (ALJ) finding a violation of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930.”Last year, Allergan, the U.S. manufacturer of Botox, and Medytox, the Korean manufacturer of a similar product, filed a joint complaint against Daewoong, a Korean drug maker, under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, alleging that Daewoong had stolen Medytox’s botox strain trade secret in Korea and introduced it to the U.S. market. The FID was issued on July 6, 2020, wherein the ALJ found that certain products sold by the Korean drug maker Daewoong and its partner Evolus, Inc. violated section 337 through their importation and sale in the United States of a botulinum neurotoxin product “by reason of the misappropriation of trade secrets.”
When people say that “data is the new oil,” they’re talking about new ways of creating wealth. No matter what business you’re in, success today depends on learning everything you can about your customers and competitors. And there’s so much information sloshing around the internet, every industry—from restaurants to manufacturers to sports teams—is busy extracting insights from “big data” analysis. But, like drilling for oil, prospecting for data sometimes gets your hands dirty. Recently, a court ruled that a startup company providing life insurance quotes to consumers had created its database – the engine of its busines – by taking data from an existing company (Compulife) that had built theirs from scratch.
Greenberg Traurig and The Rader Group – which is headed by retired Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Randall Rader – have submitted a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Acer America Corp. asking the Court to review the CAFC’s precedential opinion in Intellisoft v. Acer. On April 3, the CAFC held that the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (the district court) erred in refusing to remand a case to California state court where removal to a district court was improper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and §1454. Despite Acer’s contentions, the CAFC found that Intellisoft’s trade secret misappropriation claim did not “necessarily” raise patent law issues that would result in district court original jurisdiction.
Software is an extremely valuable good for those who produce it because it provides value to the software’s end users. That value, however, also makes it a target for those who would prefer to obtain the value without compensating the software producer. As a result, like with any valuable asset, software suppliers and Internet of Things (IoT) companies must implement safeguards to protect it. Since software is intellectual property, attorneys who work for or advise software producers (which, let’s be honest, is just about every technology company these days, given the addition of hardware manufacturers via the ubiquity of their “smart” devices to the existing desktop, mobile, and SaaS applications that we all use in both our personal and business lives), are frequently asked to advise on how to best protect this valuable asset. Unfortunately, as discussed below, most lawyers only deliver half of what they should.
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.
Tuning in to the recent sentencing of Anthony Levandowski for criminal trade secret theft, I was reminded of the wise observation about relationships, that remembering the ending is a way to forget about the beginning. But while that way of thinking can be a salve for the heart, it’s not so helpful when it comes to the kind of critical self-analysis that we need to improve our behavior, or at least certain outcomes, in business. It’s natural for us to be attracted to the drama of trade secret litigation. These cases typically involve claimed treachery of some kind, contrasted against an alternate narrative of entrepreneurship and helpful market disruption. Indeed, as I have often remarked to my students, trade secret cases are a trial lawyer’s dream, because you are dealing with the kind of emotional issues that can draw in a jury and make it easy to keep attention focused on the story you’re trying to tell.
Back in ancient times, in this case 1990, John Gray, an obscure “relationship counselor” with a correspondence degree in psychology, was perplexed. The communication problems of the heterosexual couples he worked with were so serious that he couldn’t explain them by individual circumstances. His clients seemed to be talking past each other, almost as if they were coming from different planets. With that tired metaphor in mind, he penned the book Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus, generalizing what he thought were the universal, contrasting communication styles of the sexes…. In effect, [Gray] has become rich by talking about how incompatible men and women are, despite eons of evidence to the contrary. In our world of intellectual property, it once was like this between patents and trade secrets.
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.
It happened to Japan in the 1950s. Then it happened to Taiwan, and then Korea. Rapidly-developing countries started out relying on copying foreign technologies to drive their economies. But as growth increased and investments in education led the way to domestic innovation, each country found that a framework of strong intellectual property (IP) laws was necessary to sustain economic expansion. For many years, the relationship between China and the United States (as well as other Western countries) around IP has felt like pulling uphill on a very heavy wagon, as we tried to convince, cajole and threaten, often demanding reforms as part of trade negotiations. The relationship with China was further weighed down by the perception that the government was itself involved in misappropriation and that in general it was a proponent of weak IP protection. This past January, in the midst of a tariff war, China signed the “Phase One Agreement” that promised certain improvements in its trade secret regime in return for the United States dialing back some of the trade pressure.
An employee comes to you with a recipe for your competitor’s “secret sauce.” You know she worked for your competitor before coming to work for you. How do you respond? It’s an important question, because it may go to the core integrity of your organization and because exploring this trade secret conundrum may offer some decision-making principles that businesses can apply when addressing other difficult decisions that they are being called to make in these stressful COVID-19 times.
On May 11, 2016, President Obama signed into the law the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) which extended the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), which provides a broad basis for civil federal jurisdiction for the theft of trade secret thefts. Thus, trade secret owners can sue in federal court so long as there is a connection between the trade secret and interstate or foreign commerce. However, the DTSA does not preempt states laws and parties can still bring an action under a state’s version of the Uniform Trade Secret Law. Two recent reports highlight a number of significant findings that are relevant to companies looking to protect and defend their trade secrets: In April 2020, finance consulting firm Stout Risius Ross, LLC published its 2020 “Trends in Trade Secret Litigation Report (the SR) and Lex Machina released its 2020 Trade Secret Litigation Report (LMR), in which it summarized data from the past decade and compared it against data from the previous year’s report.
If you run a business that depends on data to drive success — and what business doesn’t these days? — this tendency of information assets to escape is a major, perhaps existential, risk. Given that those assets are handled by human beings, the management challenge can feel a lot like trying to contain . . . a virus. The metaphor is not perfect. After all, a virus, unlike bacteria, is rarely considered valuable or helpful. But I believe the comparison is apt and useful in many ways, not least as a mnemonic device to help us stay focused on the difficult but necessary discipline of caring for the integrity of the company’s most valuable property, just as we care for our individual health. So stay with me as we look at several main areas of overlap between trade secret management and pandemic response. To begin with, let’s recognize that our concerns are not only about our own information propagating outwards, but also about blocking unwanted information from infecting our data systems. So our control systems are naturally tuned toward containment: keeping our data in and others’ data out.
In a precedential opinion, Intellisoft v. Acer, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), in a decision authored by Judge Dyk, held that the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (the district court) erred in refusing to remand a case where removal was improper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and §1454… Despite Acer’s contentions, the CAFC found that Intellisoft’s trade secret misappropriation claim did not “necessarily” raise patent law issues that would result in district court original jurisdiction. The CAFC first noted that ownership of a trade secret under state law does not require proof of patent ownership.
An essential element of trade secret protection is that the owner has made “reasonable” efforts to keep the information a secret. But as the Uniform Trade Secrets Act tells us, those efforts must be reasonable “under the circumstances.” When circumstances change, as they have recently, we need to recalibrate. In fact, when things return to whatever normal turns out to be, this will be an excellent opportunity for every organization to revisit the way in which it approaches management of its most important information assets.