|Who spilled the beans?|
Importantly, enforcement abuse can occur in state law in various circumstances. Trade secret litigation can be used in questionable cases on the merits for the purpose or effect of harassing competitors by forcing them to spend time and money defending the suit, instead of productive activities such as innovating. Such suits can disrupt third party relationships, slow market entry of products and services of a competitor, and increase the risk of improper disclosure or the loss of the trade secret to the public. Of course, there is usually some factual basis for the claim, so it is unlikely the litigation is obviously baseless. There is likely a spectrum on the merits of the claims that will vary based on the facts.
While trade secret defendants are often denounced as thieves, trade secret plaintiffs are often accused of going on a fishing expedition to discover another's trade secret. (metaphor, metaphor) Notably, two professors, Sharon Sandeen and David Levine, recently argued that the new proposed trade secret legislation, Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015 (DTSA), which creates a federal private right of action for trade secret misappropriation--mostly already covered by state law--will increase the likelihood of the development of a trade secret problem. A trade secret troll is defined by Professors Sandeen and Levine as "an entity that uses broad trade secret law to exact rents via dubious threats of litigation at unsuspecting defendants." The AmeriKat has provided excellent coverage of the DTSA, here and here (particularly on the Congressional hearings concerning the law). Notably, the DTSA has been greatly improved by the advocacy of Professor Sandeen and others, which has made a substantial difference in the quality of the law. (This Guest Kat is grateful for Professor Sandeen's comments on this subject.) The scholarly debate boils down to two interesting propositions: 1) we do not need the DTSA because it changes everything; and 2) we need the DTSA because it does not change anything.
Some of the main features of the legislation include:
1) creating a new federal private right of action for trade secret misappropriation that can be brought in federal court;
2) allowing an ex parte temporary restraining order available in limited circumstances;
3) requiring proof of actual or threatened misappropriation on an injunction placing conditions on employment;
4) making available punitive damages that are two times the amount of compensatory damages and attorney fees for wilful and malicious misappropriation;
5) rejecting preemption of state trade secret laws.
How the changes will impact enforcement and litigation behaviour remains to be seen. In my next post, I will discuss the rationales for the law and scholarly debate in more detail.