By Robert B. Milligan, Paul E. Freehling , Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Continuing our tradition of presenting annually our thoughts concerning the top 10 developments/headlines this past year in trade secret, computer fraud, and non-compete law, here—in no particular order—is our listing for 2015 and a few predictions for 2016.
1) Enactment of federal trade secret legislation moves closer, while federal non-compete bill gains no traction. In last year’s Top 10 listing, and in several blog posts from 2015, we described the ongoing effort of a large bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and Representatives to create a federal civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation (according to govtrack.us, as of January 11, 2016 there were 23 cosponsors of such legislation in the Senate and 107 in the House). The proposed bill is entitled “The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2015” (“DTSA”). On December 2, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the DTSA and it received a positive reaction from the Committee. We expect that the DTSA will be voted on by Congress in the spring of 2016.
Many industry representatives who have written or spoken on the subject support the DTSA. They cite such reasons as: (a) it will provide uniform statutory provisions in contrast to the “Uniform Trade Secrets Act” (“UTSA”)—adopted by every state except New York and Massachusetts—but which contains some significant state variations; (b) rather than litigate in state courts, some attorneys and companies prefer federal courts, particularly because of federal bench experience with patent, trademark, and copyright cases; (c) personal jurisdiction over defendants may be easier to obtain in a federal court than in a state court with respect to individuals or businesses charged with claims involving overseas trade secret misappropriation or computer fraud and discovery of parties and non-parties may be easier to conduct in federal court; and (d) the statute of limitations in the proposed DTSA is longer, and the maximum amount that can be awarded as punitive damages is higher than the amount available under the UTSA.
A number of academics oppose adoption of the DTSA. They suggest that the expense of litigating in federal court often exceeds the cost of handling a case in a state court. Some also take issue with, among other sections, the ex parte seizure provisions in the DTSA (although proponents cite those provisions as advantages). Opponents of the DTSA mention that the UTSA has had years of judicial interpretation that provides some measure of predictability. Opponents have also voiced concern with respect to some potentially ambiguous terms in the proposed DTSA.
We also reported on proposed federal legislation to ban enforcement of non-competes against low wage employees and to require employers to disclose in advance that employees must sign non-competes. The Senate bill is called “Mobility and Opportunity for Vulnerable Employees” (“MOVE”). At present, MOVE has few sponsors and does not appear to be gaining any traction.
Please see our dedicated page for the latest updates on the proposed federal trade secret legislation. As discussed below, we expect regulators and employees to continue to challenge the necessity and breadth and scope of non-compete agreements in certain industries.
2) Watch for challenges to (a) confidentiality covenants interpreted as discouraging cooperation with government agency investigations or chilling Section 7 rights and (b) “do-not-hire” agreements. In 2015, federal government agencies such as the SEC took aim at confidentiality clauses seemingly intended to dissuade employees from whistleblowing with respect to alleged employer misconduct. Additionally, the NLRB continued its crusade of striking employer confidentiality agreements/policies that may chill employees from exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Accordingly, we expect that non-disclosure provisions that interfere with government investigations or chill Section 7 rights will continue to be scrutinized in 2016. Further, the government previously challenged agreements among competitors that prohibited them from hiring their competitors’ employees. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have attempted to capitalize on such efforts by bringing class actions for alleged unlawful “do-not-hire” arrangements between competitors and some cases have resulted in large settlements. We expect to see more such cases in 2016.
3) The Ninth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) was supported by some courts in other circuits, but rejected by others, and other computer hacking issues continue to percolate. The CFAA states that one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access” commits a crime. 18 U.S.C. § 1030. In 2012, in U.S. v. Nosal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (in a divided en banc decision) adopted the narrow interpretation that the only intended targets of the law were hackers who “break into” a computer and that the statute does not criminalize the unauthorized use of computerized data by misguided employees. 676 F.2d 854. The same court reiterated that view in U.S. v. Christensen, Nos. 08-50531, et al. (Aug. 28, 2015). The court added, however, that California Penal Code § 502, which prohibits unauthorized taking or using information on a computer without permission, does not require unauthorized access and, therefore, is markedly unlike 18 U.S.C. § 1030.
In decisions announced before 2015, the Fourth Circuit concurred with Nosal, but the First, Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh disagreed. Judicial decisions in 2015 supported each position and, therefore, further muddied the waters.
In U.S. v. Valle, Nos. 14-2710-cr and 14-4396-cr (2d Cir., Dec. 3, 2015) (2-1 decision), the majority concluded that there is equal merit to the narrow statutory interpretation announced in Nosal, and the diametrically opposed, broader interpretation set forth by courts disagreeing with Nosal. Based solely on the doctrine of lenity, the Second Circuit adopted the narrow view.
Two judges in the Middle District of Florida reached opposite conclusions regarding Cf. Nosal (Allied Portables v. Youmans, 2015 WL 6813669 (June 15, 2015) (following Nosal), with Enhanced Recovery Co. v. Frady, No. 13-cv-1262-J-34JBT (Mar. 31, 2015) (rejecting Nosal)). A federal court in Utah adopted the broader interpretation in 2015. Giles Construction, LLC v. Tooele Inventory Solution, Inc., No. 12-cv-37 (June 2, 2015). A judge in the Western District of Michigan followed Nosal. Experian Marketing Solutions, Inc. v. Lehman, No. 15-cv-476 (W.D. Mich., Sept. 25, 2015). A judge in the Eastern District of Michigan wrote a lengthy criticism of Nosal, and a prediction that the Sixth Circuit would not follow the Ninth, but the judge ultimately decided that the complaint before him stated a cause of action regardless of which statutory interpretation was intended. American Furukawa, Inc. v. Hossain, No. 14-cv-13633 (May 6, 2015). These widely disparate rulings will leave many employers without a clear path to follow.
Moreover, one Assistant U.S. Attorney told Congress in 2015 that the CFAA should be amended to clarify which of the two conflicting views Congress intended. We predict that, unless the statute is amended, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to resolve the circuit court split.
Additionally, we expect that the Ninth Circuit will issue another decision in the U.S. v. Nosal case this year to address whether password sharing to obtain access to a protected computer is actionable under the CFAA. Additionally, we expect to see more Penal Code section 502 claims in California based upon the alleged misuse of company information “without permission.”
4) Security breaches continue to plague owners of confidential data. Hackers, nation states, competitors, and disgruntled employees are among those responsible for the breach and dissemination of confidential data. Following the Ashley Madison incident and some other highly publicized incidents, we expect to see more data breaches and resulting litigation in 2016, particularly in those jurisdictions where courts have been willing to soften the standing requirements for maintaining such suits. To guard against this risk, it is essential that companies have comprehensive information security policies and solid data breach response plans in place.
Sometimes the breach benefits only a single individual or entity, such as when an employee transfers employers and provides proprietary information belonging to the former employer to the new employer. However, the more serious consequences occur when, without the owner’s authorization, such data is published on-line for all the world to see. To make matters worse, social media privacy legislation and other privacy laws can often frustrate efforts to identify the thief and to abort the publication.
In connection with a recent New York Supreme Court—New York’s trial court—injunction hearing, a party accidentally filed its trade secrets on the New York State Courts Electronic Filing system. The adversary insisted, over the vehement objection of the party that made the inadvertent filing, that this act constituted a posting on the Internet that rendered the information publicly available. The court has delayed making a definitive ruling. On the other coast, the Northern District of California recognized that the issue occurring in New York could arise in California. The court, proactively, promulgated guidelines on its website for the prompt and effective removal of erroneous e-filings.
5) Employers’ attempts to enforce non-compete and non-solicitation covenants against lower level employees troubles courts and legislators. At one time, courts normally appeared sympathetic to the principle espoused by employers that parties’ non-competition and non-solicitation covenants were contracts that should be enforced. In 2015, although some courts enforced restrictive covenants, a number of judges refused to grant preliminary injunctions sought by former employers against ex-employees. See, e.g., Great Lakes Home Health Services Inc. v. Crissman, No. 15-cv-11053 (E.D. Mich., Nov. 2, 2015); Evans v. Generic Solutions Engineering, No. 5D15-578 (Fla. App., Oct. 30, 2015); Burleigh v. Center Point Contractors, 2015 Ark. App. 615 (Oct. 28, 2015). Each of these courts concluded that the employers had not demonstrated the requisite extreme need for injunctive relief and protection. We expect courts to continue to make it difficult on employers to obtain injunctive relief in 2016, particularly where the employee is lower level and there is no clear evidence of imminent harm. We also saw some efforts (though not successful) in Michigan, Washington, Iowa, and Massachusetts to ban or otherwise limit non-competes.
6) Enforcement of restrictive covenants against franchisees gains traction. The NLRB signaled in 2015 its view that a franchisor’s control over the business practices of franchisees may lead to treating the franchisor as a joint employer of the franchisees’ employees. Additionally, some courts held in 2015 that restrictive covenants in a franchise agreement could be enforced by the franchisor against both the franchisees and persons who benefit from but are not signatories to the franchise agreement.
Some franchisors have sued to enforce covenants in contracts with franchisees. An Ohio federal judge in 2015 ordered an ex-franchisee that had signed a confidentiality agreement to return to the franchisor its operations manual, brochures, contracts, correspondence, client files, computer database, and other records relating to the franchise agreement. H.H. Franchising Sys., Inc. v. Aronson, No. 12-cv-708 (Jan. 28, 2015). Additionally, a Wisconsin judge held that an individual who was not a signatory to a franchise agreement that included a confidentiality clause, but who had benefitted from the franchise, was prohibited from using the franchisor’s trade secrets. Everett v. Paul Davis Restoration, Inc., No. 10-C-634 (E.D. Wis., Apr. 20, 2015). We expect to see more litigation involving franchisees and related parties in 2016.
7) Courts struggle with issues relating to the adequacy of consideration for restrictive covenants. The controversial Fifield decision by the Illinois Appellate Court several years ago continued to make waves in 2015. The court in Fifield held that a restrictive covenant executed by an at-will employee is unenforceable, for lack of adequate consideration, unless the employment relationship lasts at least two years beyond the date of execution. Fifield v. Premier Dealer Service, 993 N.E.2d 938 (Il. App (1st) 2013). The Illinois Supreme Court has not yet opined on that holding. This past year, several Chicago federal trial judges, adjudicating cases in which they decided it was necessary to predict whether the Illinois Supreme Court would agree with Fifield, reached opposing conclusions. Moreover, in McInnis v. OAG Motorcycle Ventures, Inc., 35 N.E.3d 1076 (Il. App. (1st) 2015), a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court split 2-1 on the question of whether Fifield should be followed.
Another wrinkle involving consideration arose in Pennsylvania, which adopted the so-called “Uniform Written Obligations Act” (“UWOA”) (solely in force in Pennsylvania). Under the UWOA, if a written contract contains a commitment to which the parties “intend to be legally bound,” then the parties may not question the adequacy of consideration for the agreement. On the other hand, the state has a long history of disfavoring restrictive covenants in employment agreements. This past year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unenforceable for lack of consideration a covenant entered into after the commencement of employment, but for which no benefit or favorable change in employment status was given to the employee. Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc., Case No. 3-40-2015 (Nov. 18, 2015). This ruling came down notwithstanding the UWOA, even though the agreement expressly quoted the “legally bound” language of that law. See id. This decision does not alter the doctrine that covenants signed by employees upon hire are supported by adequate consideration. We expect to see more challenges to the adequacy of consideration by employees in 2016.
8) New state legislation concerning restrictive covenants. State legislatures have enacted, and probably will continue to enact, new laws bearing on restrictive covenants.
- New Hawaii statute. Passed in 2015, it provides that a non-compete or non-solicit clause in an employment contract for an employee of a technology business is void.
- New Connecticut, Montana, and Virginia statutes. In 2015, these three states joined more than a dozen others by enacting laws that restrict employer access to personal social media accounts of employees and job applicants. We predict that these laws will adversely impact employers’ efforts to uncover trade secret theft.
- New Mexico health care practitioner statute. A law passed in 2015 provides that an employer of a health care practitioner may not enforce a non-compete covenant restricting the practitioner from providing post-termination clinical health care services.
- Alabama and Oregon statutes. Alabama revised its non-compete statute (effective January 1, 2016). The revised statute will make it easier for employers to enforce non-competes against Alabama employees. Additionally, Oregon limited the duration of non-competes with employees to 18 months. The new law is also effective January 1, 2016.
9) Rulings regarding validity of forum selection provisions in restrictive covenant agreements. Some multi-state employers use one-size-fits-all covenants, and that practice—coupled with a litigant’s forum shopping—sometimes leads to unexpected inconsistencies. California’s policy, articulated in Business and Professions Code Section 16600 (which provides that employee non-compete clauses are typically void), has figured in a number of these cases and likely will continue to do so. California courts continue to dismiss or transfer such cases to other states in accordance with contracting parties’ forum choice notwithstanding employees’ arguments that the forum state might enforce covenants which seemingly are void in California. We did see some reluctance by courts in Delaware and New York to impose broad restrictive covenants on employees in 2015, particularly where the designated choice of law may unfairly impact the employee.
10) Proposed EU Directive to protect trade secrets makes progress; vote nears on U.S. involvement in Trans Pacific Partnership. The European Union and other foreign countries have varying rules with regard to the protection of trade secrets. In some instances, there are no rules regarding trade secret protection or the laws are not enforced. A U.S. company doing business abroad may encounter a wide variety of practices applicable to trade secrets. There has been an effort to harmonize trade secrets law abroad to provide minimum standards as exemplified by the EU Directive.
As we reported, the proposed EU Directive crossed yet one more procedural hurdle with a provisional agreement on the Directive reached by the European Council (represented by the Luxembourg presidency) and representatives of the European Parliament. Now that the provisional agreement has been reached, the Parliament and Council will conduct a legal-linguistic review of the text. Once that process has been completed, the proposed Directive will then be submitted to the full Parliament for approval. Currently, the Parliament is expected to vote on the Directive around March 2016, but the precise date for a first reading has yet to be determined.
Additionally, as we reported, a proposed trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership, was reached in October 2015 among a dozen Pacific Rim countries and the U.S. While the implementing legislation still needs to be passed by the signatory countries, the agreement will require signatory nations, such as Australia, Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia, to implement criminal procedures and penalties for the unauthorized misappropriation of trade secrets. The agreement signifies the Obama Administration’s continued effort to enhance trade secret protections at home and abroad for the benefit of U.S. companies.
U.S. inauguration turns poet Amanda Gorman into best seller
WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The president’s poet woke up a superstar on Thursday, after a powerful reading at the U.S. inauguration catapulted 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list.
Hours after Gorman’s electric performance at the swearing-in of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, her two books – neither out yet – topped Amazon.com’s sales list.
“I AM ON THE FLOOR MY BOOKS ARE #1 & #2 ON AMAZON AFTER 1 DAY!” Gorman, a Los Angeles resident, wrote on Twitter.
Gorman’s debut poetry collection ‘The Hill We Climb’ won top spot in the online retail giant’s sale charts, closely followed by her upcoming ‘Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem’.
While poetry’s popularity is on the up, it remains a niche market and the overnight adulation clearly caught Gorman short.
“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me and my words. As Yeats put it: ‘For words alone are certain good: Sing, then’.”
Gorman, the youngest poet in U.S. history to mark the transition of presidential power, offered a hopeful vision for a deeply divided country in Wednesday’s rendition.
“Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it,” Gorman said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol two weeks after a mob laid siege and following a year of global protests for racial justice.
“We will not march back to what was. We move to what shall be, a country that is bruised, but whole. Benevolent, but bold. Fierce and free.”
The performance stirred instant acclaim, with praise from across the country and political spectrum, from the Republican-backing Lincoln Project to former President Barack Obama.
“Wasn’t @TheAmandaGorman’s poem just stunning? She’s promised to run for president in 2036 and I for one can’t wait,” tweeted former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A graduate of Harvard University, Gorman says she overcame a speech impediment in her youth and became the first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017.
She has now joined the ranks of august inaugural poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.
Her social media reach boomed, with her tens of thousands of followers ballooning into a Twitter fan base of a million-plus.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise! Brava Brava, @TheAmandaGorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I,” tweeted TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Gorman’s books are both due out in September.
Third on Amazon’s best selling list was another picture book linked to politics and projecting hope: ‘Ambitious Girl’ by Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Why brands harnessing the power of digital are winning in this evolving business landscape
By Justin Pike, Founder and Chairman, MYPINPAD
Delivery of intuitive, secure, personalised, and frictionless user experiences has long been table stakes in digital commerce, well before the era of COVID-19. As businesses harness the revolutionary power of digital technologies, they have pursued large-scale change to adapt to evolving consumer preferences (some more successfully than others, but that’s a blog for another day). Digital transformation is a term we hear repeatedly, and it looks different for each organisation, but essentially, it’s about utilising technology and data to digitise, automate, innovate and improve processes and the customer experience across the entire business.
As I said, this was already well underway but then came 2020 and no industry escaped the disruption of the coronavirus outbreak, which has had an indelible impact on businesses performance, operations, and revenue. Regardless of whether the impact of COVID has been very positive or very challenging, it has forced organisations globally to re-evaluate and re-orient strategies to adapt.
As lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions continue to change daily life, this raises the question of how we can balance a dramatic shift to digital and the benefits it brings, while ensuring business continuity and innovation both during and post-COVID, and protecting everyone against fraud?
Digital is an essential survival tool, and even more so in a COVID world
No one could have predicted the dramatic digital pivot that has taken place over this year. Indeed, within weeks of the COVID outbreak cash usage in the UK dropped by around 50%. Digital solutions including delivery applications, contactless payments, mobile commerce, online and mobile banking have become essential components of a touchless customer experience in the era of social distancing. It’s no longer just about an enhanced and superior customer experience, it’s also about health, safety and survival.
In store, businesses have benefited from contactless payments enabling faster throughput and reduced need for consumers to touch payment terminals (therefore requiring greater cleaning, which degrades the hardware much faster). Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments – including tap-to-pay and mobile pay – during the first quarter of the year as the global pandemic worsened. Digital has also become an essential sales channel for many B2C brands. Where brick and mortar stores have been required to close, digital commerce enables continuity of customer relationships and revenue. This channel also provides brands with rich customer data, which can be used to enhance and personalise the customer experience and typically results in greater levels of engagement and uplifts in revenue.
Industry forecasts estimate that worldwide spending on the technologies and services enabling digital transformation will reach GBP 1.8 trillion in 2023 – a clear indication that the process represents a long-term investment and a global commitment to digital-first strategy. The key point here is that digital brings significant benefits, and regardless of COVID, is here to stay.
The challenges that rapid digital transformation brings to businesses
Regardless of whether businesses are operating in developed or less-developed economies, these times of crisis have levelled the playing field in the sense that all businesses are facing similar issues. Access to products and supplies, maintaining customer relationships, accelerating sales for some and declining sales for others, health and hygiene are just a few of the unique challenges brought about by COVID.
Many businesses in physical environments have had to swiftly implement changes to significantly reduce safety risks for staff and customers, such as contactless payments, mobile ordering and delivery options. But with these changes come a host of other benefits of digitisation, such as faster transactions, and reduced human error at the point-of-sale.
The reliance on technology, however, can also expose organisations and consumers to certain vulnerabilities. In particular, the risks of fraud and cybercrime have dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic as scammers have taken advantage of digital technologies to target both businesses and individuals.
As a McKinsey report illustrates, new levels of sophistication in the activities of fraudsters have placed more pressure on companies that have been previously slow to go digital, bringing “into sharp relief how vulnerable companies really are”, and damaging the financial health of small and large businesses. In fact, the Bottomline 2020 Business Payments Barometer reveals that only one in 10 small businesses across the UK report recovering more than 50% of losses due to fraud.
But take these stats with a grain of salt. While it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges this new business landscape brings, it’s equally as important to have a lens firmly across your own business, industry and audience, and to identify the changes you can make internally to mitigate risk as well as improve your customer experience. Where can you make some quick wins? Do you have the right skillsets internally to achieve what you need to achieve? What technology is out there that will enable your business goals? There are tech companies like MYPINPAD that are making huge strides in software development, which will transform businesses globally.
A digital world post-COVID
Almost a year in, the line between business success and failure remains fragile. However, an ongoing transition towards greater digitisation will be the difference between survival and the alternative.
There is a wide range of initiatives businesses can implement to weather this storm. If we look at the space MYPINPAD operates within, secure digital consumer authentication is crucial to the ongoing success and security of not only financial products but also identification and verification across a range of different industry verticals. Shifting the authentication of consumers securely onto mobile devices enables businesses to completely reshape their customer experiences. By bringing together a more seamless, frictionless customer experience, accessibility, privacy, security and access to consumer data, businesses are able to drive digital transformation across day-to-day activities.
Against this backdrop, software with stronger security standards continue to play an ever more vital role in supporting society, protecting consumers and businesses from the increase in risks that rapid digitisation brings. Already, merchants can deploy PIN on Mobile technology from companies like MYPINPAD, onto their smart devices to speed up the digitisation process many are now tackling.
Essentially, opening up universal payments and authentication methods that feel familiar, for both online and face-to-face transactions, will be key to opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to redefining how businesses engage with consumers.
Brexit responsible for food supply problems in Northern Ireland, Ireland says
LONDON (Reuters) – Food supply problems in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit because there are now a certain amount of checks on goods going between Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.
British ministers have sought to play down the disruption of Brexit in recent days.
“The supermarket shelves were full before Christmas and there are some issues now in terms of supply chains and so that’s clearly a Brexit issue,” Coveney told ITV.
The Northern Irish protocol means there are “a certain amount of checks on goods coming from GB into Northern Ireland and that involves some disruption,” he said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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