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Bringing a Lawsuit for the Misappropriation of Trade Secrets

Litigation By Harvey Binnall PLLC - 2020/01/03 at 11:55am

Experienced Business Litigation Attorney in Alexandria, VA

Businesses cannot always rely on patents or copyright to protect their intellectual property.  In some cases, information valuable to the company — perhaps even central to its business proposition — is kept shrouded in secrecy and protected.  Legally speaking, these protected secrets are referred to as “trade secrets.”  One popular example of a trade secret is the original Coca-Cola soda recipe.  If Coca-Cola did not exclusively control the recipe, then the value of their branded product would drop precipitously, as others could simply copy and reproduce their product.

Fortunately, the law provides businesses ample opportunity to sue and recover damages in the event that a competitor misappropriates a trade secret.  If you believe that someone may have misappropriated a trade secret from your business, then it’s worth exploring the basic legal concepts at-issue and consulting with an attorney for a case evaluation.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Qualifies as a Trade Secret?

Trade secrets are a rather broad category of information, that may include data, processes, formulae, patterns, devices, methods, ingredients, techniques, computer software, and personnel and client information.  Sometimes, the term “know-how” is used to describe information that could potentially qualify as a trade secret.

Aside from the categorical requirement, there are three factors that define a trade secret:

  1. The information must be confidential;
  2. The trade secret must provide a competitive economic advantage over competitors in the industry; and
  3. The owner must make reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.

For example, if you own a gourmet foods business, but you put the “secret” recipe for your famous spice mix on your publicly-accessible website, then courts are unlikely to consider the recipe a trade secret under the law, as you did not make reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.

Understanding Misappropriation

If someone obtains a trade secret, that does not always give the owner of said trade secret an actionable claim under the law.  Misappropriation of a trade secret requires a specific set of circumstances.

Essentially, misappropriation may be asserted if either of the following is true:

  • The defendant personally obtained the trade secret through improper means, which may include theft, fraud, bribery, espionage, and breach of contract.

For example, if the defendant-employee breaches their employment contract (which contains a non-disclosure clause with respect to the trade secret at-issue) by sharing a recipe with people outside of the company, then that would likely constitute misappropriation).

  • The defendant published the trade secret, despite knowing that the information was obtained (by another) through improper means, or that the information was meant to be secret.

For example, if the defendant accidentally receives a forwarded email with a trade secret recipe, surrounded by text warnings about confidentiality, then that defendant cannot publish the information to a third-party.  Doing so would qualify as misappropriation, as the circumstances make it clear that the information was not meant to be disclosed to outside parties.

Contact Harvey & Binnall for Legal Assistance

Here at Harvey & Binnall, PLLC, our team has extensive experience working with clients in a wide range of business tort disputes, including those that center around the misappropriation of trade secrets.  We have a deep bench with a proven track record in-and-out of the courtroom, and as such, we are often able to put pressure on opposing counsel to resolve the case favorably and early.

Unlike many of our competitors, our team is committed to client-centered representation at every stage of the dispute.  We work closely with clients to ensure that we are not only securing a positive result, but that we are also doing so in a way that is consistent with their overall business needs and concerns.

If you’d like to speak to an experienced Alexandria business litigation attorney at our firm, we encourage you to call us at 703-888-1943 or complete an intake form online to schedule a consultation.