There is a lack of consensus among Federal Circuit judges whether a jury should determine the amount of restitution or unjust enrichment damages. The three judges that decided TAOS v. Renesas (Fed. Cir. 2018) did not believe a jury should decide restitution for trade secret misappropriation. A different three-judge panel in TCL v. Ericsson (Fed. Cir. 2019) took a contrary position, holding that a jury should decide restitution for defendant’s past unlicensed sales of products infringing plaintiff’s patents. The different resolutions of the jury right question cannot be reconciled as dealing with different wrongful conduct – trade secret misappropriation in TAOS and patent infringement in TCL. Instead, they reflect a difference of opinion within the Federal Circuit on whether the same or substantially similar restitution remedy is legal or equitable in nature.

These Federal Circuit decisions are material to the continued development of guidelines for measuring monetary relief for trade secret misappropriation. In addition to actual losses, the trade secret owner is entitled to obtain the amount by which the misappropriator has been unjustly enriched (not otherwise accounted for in the award of actual losses). Relief in the form of actual loss is a damages-type remedy having the goal of compensating the trade secret owner for its losses. Relief in the form of unjust enrichment is a restitution-type remedy having the goal of preventing the misappropriator from unjustly benefiting at the trade secret owner’s expense. Whether future cases hold that a jury should decide unjust enrichment may well turn on which of TAOS’s or TCL’s views of restitution is adopted; if TAOS, this is equitable relief for which there is no jury right, or, if TCL, this is legal relief for which there is a jury right.


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The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) provides a private right of action under federal law for trade secret misappropriation. It extends to reach a foreign corporation’s conduct occurring outside the United States “if . . . an act in furtherance of the offense was committed in the United States.” 18 U.S.C. § 1837(2). However, the DTSA does not define “an act in furtherance” and until recently there was no case law addressing the question; absent such guidance there is uncertainty about the DTSA’s extraterritorial reach. This may be changing.

Luminati Networks, Ltd. v. BIScience, Inc. 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79843, at *21-22 (E.D. Tex. May 13, 2019) and Micron Tech., Inc. v. United Microelectronics Corp., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74527, at *11 (N.D. Cal. May 2, 2019) appear to be among the earliest if not the first cases to define an “an act in furtherance” and their definitions support the broad extension of the DTSA to cover extraterritorial misappropriation.


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Yesterday evening, the district court in the trade secret litigation Waymo v. Uber et al [3:17-cv-939-WHA] issued revised jury instructions on trade secret misappropriation and proposed special verdict form (Dkt. #2499). The revised instructions retain the requirement in earlier drafts of the instructions that Waymo must show Uber actually used the improperly acquired trade secrets

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), on its face, creates a private action in district court for misappropriation occurring abroad.  Filing a DTSA claim in district court may in certain circumstances provide the best remedy for foreign trade secret theft over other alternatives such as filing a complaint with the International Trade Commission.  But over

Dave Bohrer’s recent post Extending US Trade Secret Law to Reach IP Theft in China discusses what to do when your company’s Chinese joint venture makes off with your trade secrets in China.  The post suggests it may be possible to bring an action in US court extending either federal or state trade secret law extraterritorially to reach the misconduct in China.

In response to Dave’s post, I suggest that there is another, complementary alternative to a US-based civil action: bring a complaint asserting trade secret theft and unfair competition to the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) under Section 337 of the Tariff Act.

The ITC, despite its name, is a U.S. federal agency that operates as U.S. district court with a twist – extraterritorial reach to address unfair acts that take place entirely oversees, and in rem jurisdiction over Chinese respondents based on the importation of goods into the United States.   The ITC cannot award damages but it can close the borders to goods from Chinese entities that steal trade secrets, effectively a national injunction.  Your aggrieved U.S. client at least won’t find itself competing with its own purloined knowhow in the U.S. market.   ITC cases are fast (18 months or less, soup to nuts) and furious (offering remedies with teeth that not only exclude unfairly traded goods, but which can bind U.S. distributors and retailers with cease and desist orders).

The ITC came into its own as a forum for litigating trade secrets with the TianRui case in 2008.  In that case, employees from a Chinese-U.S. railway equipment joint venture departed and started a new Chinese company, using the stolen trade secrets.  Soon the U.S. partner was facing U.S. imports of Chinese railways using the stolen technology.  The ITC found, and the Federal Circuit affirmed, that the Commission had authority under Section 337 of the Tariff Act to apply U.S. trade secret law to bad actors and unfair acts that took place entirely in China.  The Federal Circuit expressly held that “section 337 applies to imported goods produced through the exploitation of trade secrets in which the act of misappropriation occurs abroad.   In reaching this decision, the Federal Circuit effectively treated the Uniform Trade Secrets Act as federal common law and found the Commission’s determination to comply with basic trade secret principles.  ITC findings of fact and law in “unfair acts” cases are preclusive and bind the district court, giving Complainants the option of a rapid one-two punch of an ITC exclusion order sealing the U.S. border from infringing goods, and then the possibility of walking into the district court for damages without relitigating the merits of the case.

Of particular note is the ITC’s determination in TianRui that “[t]he presumption against extraterritoriality does not govern this case.”   In other words, a trade secret complaint investigated by the ITC avoids entirely what my colleague described in his earlier post as one of the more significant legal hurdles to extending US trade secret law to reach extraterritorial conduct.
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Hidden Memory Card  (inspired by ABC's Designated Survivor, 1:9, "The Blueprint," aired Dec. 7, 2016)
Hidden Memory Card (inspired by ABC’s Designated Survivor, 1:9, “The Blueprint,” aired Dec. 7, 2016)

Engineers from your China subsidiary just joined a competing company which has begun using your trade secrets.  Can you sue in the US and avoid the uncertainty and expense of seeking relief in a Chinese court?  The answer is that both federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) of 2016 and California’s version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), under the right circumstances, may be extended extraterritorially to reach misappropriation outside of the US.

Perhaps surprisingly, it may be harder to do this under the federal law, which expressly provides that it applies to conduct outside the US, than under the California law, which is silent on the subject.  Let’s break this down.

Extraterritorial theft of trade secrets by insider employees or business partners in China is a significant problem as evidenced by the investigation in International Trade Commission cases Amsted v. TianRui (disclosure and use of US company’s trade secrets in China) [the 2011 Federal Circuit decision on appeal] and In re Certain Rubber Resins (same) [the 2014 ITC determination].  The problem reflects the reality of the current business environment, which is global and digital; technology owned by US-based companies is often shared with employees or business partners located outside of the US and it is not unusual for them to move between competitors.
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Departing Employee imageAlarms sounded when John Absmeier, technical director of Delphi Automotive’s Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle project, announced he was leaving to join Samsung’s Silicon Valley innovation center where he would lead a self-driving car technology team.  They grew louder upon Delphi’s determination that Absmeier downloaded hundreds of thousands of company files and folders onto personal devices

Although many may be asserted, quite often far less warrant protection
Although many may be asserted, quite often far less warrant protection

The question is whether it is possible to get a court to enter partial summary judgment before trial on some but not all of the trade secrets that the defendant is accused of stealing.

As discussed in the Sept 28 post, the answer is that this may not be possible if the lawsuit is filed in California state court.

But if the trade secret lawsuit is filed in federal court, the answer is yes.  In federal court, it is easier to weed out before trial alleged trade secrets that do not satisfy the legal requirements for protection.

Why should we care?  For each allegedly misappropriated trade secret that is allowed to be argued at trial, the costs incurred in either proving up or rebutting the claim run in the tens if not the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on attorneys, experts and discovery, not to mention the significant time the court and the jury must devote to determining liability on each such claim.  In other words, the potential savings of time and money to all concerned (court, jurors, and parties) from taking fewer trade secrets to trial are huge. Also, settlement before trial is much more likely if the parties know in advance which trade secret claims will or will not be tried.
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