Trade Secrets

Oh, Did I Forget to Tell You That Was Confidential? Better Overkill Than Underkill

A lot of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) provide that if one party gives the other a document and expects it to be treated as confidential, the document must be marked “confidential.”  Or, if the confidential information is communicated orally, the party that wants to protect it must notify the receiving party in writing within a specified number of days. (“Hey, the stuff we told at our meeting on Monday relating to our fantastic new product idea? That’s all confidential under our NDA”).

This was the situation in Convolve, Inc. v. Compaq Computer, decided by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on July 1, 2013.  The NDA at issue in that case provided that to trigger either party’s confidentiality obligations “the disclosed information must be: (1) marked as confidential at the time of disclosure; or (2) unmarked, but treated as confidential at the time of disclosure, and later designated confidential in a written memorandum summarizing and identifying the confidential information.”

Big mistake.… Read the full article

Massachusetts Quick Links – October 2012

by Lee Gesmer on November 5, 2012

Oriental Financial Group, Inc. v.  Cooperativa De Ahorro y Crédito Oriental (1st Cir. October 18, 2012) — In this case the First Circuit adopts the trademark law “progressive encroachment doctrine,” joining the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th circuits. The progressive encroachment doctrine may be used as an offensive countermeasure to the affirmative defense of laches (delay in brining suit) where the trademark owner can show that “(1) during the period of the delay the plaintiff could reasonably conclude that it should not bring suit to challenge the allegedly infringing activity; (2) the defendant materially altered its infringing activities; and (3) suit was not unreasonably delayed after the alteration in infringing activity” (quoting Oriental Financial).

Harlan Laboratories, Inc. v. Gerald Campbell (D. Mass. October 25, 2012) — Applying Indiana law, Judge Patti Saris issues a preliminary injunction enforcing a one year non-compete agreement. However, the opinion makes liberal use of Massachusetts and First Circuit precedents.… Read the full article

Hair Color Formulas and Salon Client Contact Info Not a Trade Secret, Says Superior Court Judge

When I think of trade secret cases I tend to think of “high end” stuff: secret manufacturing processes, software algorithms, chemical or biological secrets, maybe even the formulas for Coca Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The truth, however, is more mundane, as shown by a case decided by Judge Nicholson in Barnstable County. In this case, which was dismissed in favor of the defendant hair stylist on summary judgment, the court held that a hair salon’s hair color formulas and customer contact information were not trade secrets.   This was an easy case, since the stylist knew many of her clients socially outside the salon and there was no employment or secrecy agreement other than an employee handbook, which is a weak basis on which to make a trade secret claim. After all, how many employees read handbooks? The judge also ruled that the hair color formulas belonged to the stylist who had developed them for the salon’s clients, not the salon, since there was no agreement to assign the formulas to the salon.  … Read the full article

Not Every Great Idea Is a Trade Secret

by Lee Gesmer on March 7, 2009

Not Every Great Idea Is a Trade Secret

You have a brainstorm: there is a market for dumpster rentals, and what better place to make the rentals than The Home Depot? You go to Home Depot and have it sign a non-disclosure agreement before you disclose this idea to it. You disclose the dumpster idea to Home Depot executives, but after much discussion and a great deal of back and forth over several years with many Home Depot employees, Home Depot turns you down. The next thing you know, Home Depot is renting dumpsters, using a business model not too different from the one you proposed.

You cry foul. You sue Home Depot in Massachusetts state court for misappropriation of trade secrets. Home Depot removes the case to Massachusetts federal district court where it grinds through a couple of years of discovery. During that process you claim that the damages you’ve suffered are between $19 and $60 million.

Home Depot files a motion for summary judgment.… Read the full article