San Diego, CA Trade Secret Lawyer
Our San Diego trade secret attorneys represent individuals and businesses, as plaintiffs and defendants, in pre-lawsuit disputes and actual litigation. Trade secret claims involve allegations of theft, improper acquisition, and/or unauthorized disclosure of an individual’s or a company’s private, commercially advantageous information.
The Trade Secret Misappropriation Case
In analyzing a trade secrets case, our San Diego lawyers on examine the evidence for:
1. Existence of a “Trade Secret” — A trade secret is information that derives independent economic value (actual or potential) from being out of the public domain, or not known to others who could benefit from it. The holder of the secret must attempt to keep information secret by doing what is reasonable under the circumstances.
In theory, the list of what qualifies as a trade secret is endless. California Courts have found the following to be trade secrets:
- customer lists and information
- billing/price-setting formulas
- employee lists and information
- supplier/distributor lists and information
- advertising/marketing strategy, plans, and techniques
- business strategies, forms, methods
- engineer drawings and blueprints
- manufacturing and production techniques/processes
- product plans/designs
- course/teaching material
Our attorneys analyze all facts and law supporting (and going against) arguments the information is protected. Getting all the facts often requires very competent and extensive discovery and investigative techniques.
To prevent misappropriation (or establish secrecy if they need to sue), employers should develop contracts, confidentiality agreements, and guidelines for what information can be used for what purposes. They should label and store sensitive information and limit access to it.
2. Wrongful Acquisition, Disclosure, or Use. If a trade secret exists, the focus then turns on the defendant’s conduct. The defendant must have either:
- Acquired the trade secret through improper means;
- Acquired or disclosed the trade secret despite a duty to maintain secrecy or limited use; or
- Acquired the trade secret by accident or mistake.
California law defines “improper means” as including (but not limited to) theft, bribery, misrepresentation/fraud, breach/inducement of breach of contract to maintain secrecy, or espionage, and pretending to conduct business negotiations. What actually is “improper means” is up to the court/jury to decide and for lawyers to argue.
Importantly, California law gives the employer ownership of any employee-created trade secrets, if developed during work and/or with employer information or materials.
Also, it is important to note that “reverse engineering” is not improper, and will not support liability.
3. Defendant’s Knowledge. The defendant must know (or have reason to know) the trade secret was acquired wrongfully or by accident. A defendant cannot ignore circumstances that would put a reasonable person on notice.
4. Relief Available in a San Diego Trade Secrets Lawsuit. A successful plaintiff in a trade secrets case can get the following:
- Injunction — preventing actual or threatened misappropriation;
- Royalties — for the defendant’s use of the trade secret;
- Damages – for the actual harm caused;
- Unjust Enrichment – for the benefit the defendant received;
- Punitive Damages — up to 10x actual harm for willful and malicious misappropriation; and/or
- Attorney Fees — for willful and malicious misappropriation
Important Notes on Prior-Employees Defending a Trade Secret Case
Former employers or business partners often threaten a lawsuit to intimidate a former employee or partner, and to eliminate competition. Potential defendants in a trade secrets case should know what it takes for the ex-employer to prove its case, and the defenses available.
Finding a San Diego Trade Secret Lawyer
If contemplating a legal action, or sued, it is important to speak with a San Diego trade secret lawyer as soon as possible regarding the help available, as well as to prepare for and investigate the claims.
To learn more about trade secrets lawsuits, and for a complimentary case evaluation, call us today at the number below, or fill out the online form.