Implementing and Interpreting the Defend Trade Secrets Act

By Dennis Crouch

With today’s 410-2 House vote, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) has now passed both the House and Senate and is headed to President Obama for his expected signature.[1]  The DTSA amends the Economic Espionage Act to create a private civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation based upon the Congressional sense that trade secret theft exists and is harmful.[2]  Trade secret misappropriation (as a civil matter) has previously been purely a matter of state law.  Although there is substantial uniformity between the states,[3] there are also a number of differences and perceived procedural weaknesses.[4]  The DTSA would not eliminate or preempt the various state trade secret rights but rather would operate as an additional layer of potential protection.[5] The law is designed to go into effect on its day of enactment and apply to any misappropriation that occurs on or after that date.

On March 10, 2017, the University of Missouri’s Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship (CIPE) along with our new Business, Entrepreneurship, and Tax Law Review (BETR) will host a symposium on Implementing and Interpreting the Defend Trade Secrets Act.  I expect that we will live-stream the event and will also publish speaker articles in BETR.  There is a lot to figure out. Contact me if you are interested in sponsorship opportunities (

The central provision of the DTSA will be codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1836(b) and reads:

An owner of a trade secret that is misappropriated may bring a civil action under this subsection if the trade secret is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.

Defining Trade Secret: The DTSA broadly defines the term “trade secret” to mean “all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible, and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing if—(A) the owner thereof has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret; and (B) the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, the another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”  Although this definition is broad and certainly includes abstract ideas and laws of nature, it might not encompass information that is only stored in the human mind.[6]

Defining Misappropriation of a Trade Secret:  The statute also defines “misappropriation” in detail.  My rough approximation is as follows: without permission (A) obtaining a trade secret that was knowingly obtained through improper means or (B) disclosing or using a trade secret without knowing either (1) that it is a trade secret or (2) that it was obtained through improper means.  These “improper means” include “theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means.” However, misappropriation does not include “reverse engineering, independent derivation, or any other lawful means of acquisition.”  The DTSA does not otherwise include a more general fair-use or news-reporting exception.  However, the First Amendment will certainly serve as a backstop.  Further, these definitions do not include any express territorial limit – it will be very interesting to see the extent that these limits will be implied into the law.  Thus, if a U.S. company is holding trade-secrets in India that are stolen in India, could the U.S. company bring action against the Indian entity that caused the injury (presuming personal jurisdiction over the defendant)?

Remedies Civil Seizure: A key procedural benefit of the DTSA is to offer a mechanism for Civil Seizure ordered by courts and enforced by Federal, State, and/or local law enforcement as a preventive measure (akin to a temporary restraining order).

Remedies: Once misappropriation is found, the court will be authorized to grant injunctive relief as “reasonable.”  If “exceptional circumstances” render injunctive relief is “inequitable” then a court may order a reasonable royalty for the misappropriator’s continued use of the trade secret.  Depending upon how the statute is interpreted, this setup appears to create a presumption of injunctive relief – a stark difference from contemporary patent law doctrine under eBay v. MercExcange.  The statute also provides for compensatory damages for either (i): (I) “actual loss of the trade secret” and, in addition (II) “any unjust enrichment” not compensated in (I); or (ii) a reasonable royalty for the use.  Willful misappropriation can double damages.[7] In these calculations, I suspect that courts will take into account both the market-value of the trade secret as well as the “expenses for research and design and other costs of reproducing the trade secret” that were avoided by the misappropriation. The provision also includes an attorney fee shifting provision limited to cases involving bad-faith or willful-misappropriation.

Remedy against Former Employees: Most trade secret cases involve former employees moving (or starting-up) to a competitor.  A major concern raised against early versions of the bill was that the DTSA would empower employers to prevent such movement.  As amended, the bill now indicates that injunctive relief that would “prevent (or place conditions on) a person from entering into an employment relationship” must be “based on evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows.”[8]  Of course, such “threat” does not necessarily mean that the employee expressly threatened misappropriation but rather will likely be based upon circumstantial evidence regarding likelihood of misappropriation (i.e., ‘threat level’).[9]  In addition, the injunction preventing or limiting employment cannot “otherwise conflict with an applicable State law prohibiting restraints on the practice of a lawful profession, trade, or business.”  This bit appears to be directed toward giving credence to non-compete and other limits in various states. However, of key importance is that it only limits injunctive relief and does not appear to limit any cause of action against former employees.  As a consequence, this sets the likelihood of a fight between certain state employment laws that favor employee rights against the new federal trade secret law.

Whistle Blowers: Professor Peter Menell was instrumental in proposing a public policy immunity provision that is included in the DTSA.  The provision would offer immunity from liability (whistle blower protection) for confidential disclosure of a trade secret to the Government or in a Court Filing (made under seal).  The provision includes a notification requirement that employers should immediately implement.

= = = = =


[1] Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, S. 1890.

[2] Although trade secret rights are thought of as a form of intellectual property, the bill is clear that the DTSA “shall not be construed to be a law pertaining to intellectual property.”  The result of this could, for example, mean that the intellectual property licensee exception in bankruptcy law would not apply to licenses of trade secret information.  See 11 U.S.C. § 365(n).  [In Bankruptcy Law, Trade Secrets are defined as a form of IP, but it is unclear to me at this point which statute would prevail.]  Because the DTSA is an amendment to the Economic Espionage Act – a criminal law – it will also be codified in Title 18 of the United States Code that is generally directed to “crimes and criminal procedure.”  Although I don’t know exactly, there may be aspects of Title 18 (such as general definitions) that will shape the interpretation of federal trade secret law.  As an example, 18 U.S.C. § 2(b) offers a “general principle” of respondeat superior that “[w]hoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.”

[3] Consider the popularity of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act in the various states.

[4] Jury trial should still apply to the extent it has in state cases.

[5] The Economic Espionage Act already includes a rule of construction that the statute “shall not be construed to preempt or displace any other remedies, whether civil or criminal, provided by United States Federal, State, commonwealth, possession, or territory law for the misappropriation of a trade secret, or to affect the otherwise lawful disclosure of information by any Government employee under section 552 of title 5(commonly known as the Freedom of Information Act).”  The DTSA reaffirms this principle by stating that “[n]othing in the amendments made by this section shall be construed to modify the rule of construction under section 1838 of title 18, United States Code, or to preempt any other provision of law.”  The bill provides for original jurisdiction of these trade secret cases in federal district court. However, it does not create exclusive jurisdiction – as such it would be proper for a party to bring such a claim in state court (when permitted by the state court). However, in that case, the other party may attempt to remove the case to Federal Court.  You might also query as to whether the federal claim is a ‘compulsory claim’ under the law such that if someone brings a state-law claim and loses they would later be estopped from bringing the federal claim.

[6] There may also be constitutional limitations on a company owning and controlling that information.

[7] This provision suggests by implication that misappropriation may be non-willful despite the fact that the misappropriation definition includes a mens rea element.

[8] My understanding is that Jim Pooley and Mark Lemley were instrumental in suggesting the addition of this provision that has now put the Bill in form where it is broadly supported by the politicians.

[9] Improperly obtaining a trade secret is a form of misappropriation – this creates some potential confusing situations in the interpretation of the provision.

Guest Post: Defend Trade Secrets Act — A Primer, an Endorsement, and a Criticism

Guest Post by David S. Almeling, a partner in the San Francisco office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP. Almeling specializes in patent and trade secret litigation.

It’s been an exciting month for trade secret law. Senators Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Defend Trade Secrets Act, a bill that would, for the first time, provide a federal right of civil action for trade secret theft. And the Judiciary Committee held a hearing during which speakers expressed support for the DTSA, including Eli Lilly’s VP and General Patent Counsel, Douglas Norman, who stated that the DTSA “will establish the gold standard for national trade secret laws globally.”

The DTSA is a game changer. If enacted, it would constitute the most dramatic rethinking of trade secret law since 1979, when the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws approved a model statute called the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Since then, 48 states have adopted the UTSA in some form, replacing their common-law regimes with statutory ones.

The DTSA isn’t perfect — I’ll explain why in a moment — but it’s the best bill of its kind introduced to date, and it should be enacted.

A Primer

The DTSA authorizes a trade secret owner to bring a civil cause of action in federal court for either (1) a violation of the Economic Espionage Act, which criminalized certain types of trade secret misappropriation, or (2) a “misappropriation of a trade secret that is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.” The DTSA’s definition of misappropriation tracks closely the UTSA’s definition.

The DTSA would also:

Grant courts the power to issue ex parte orders “for the preservation of evidence” and “for the seizure of any property used…to commit” the alleged misappropriation. This is similar to the relief available under the Lanham Act for counterfeit goods.

Allow courts to award injunctions; damages for actual loss or unjust enrichment; a reasonable royalty “in lieu of damages”; exemplary damages up to treble the amount of compensatory damages, as opposed to the UTSA, which permits courts to award only double damages; and attorneys’ fees.

Establish a five-year statute of limitations, two years longer than the UTSA’s provision.

Decline to preempt any other law.

An Endorsement

The DTSA is not the first bill in recent years to propose a federal cause of action for trade secret theft.

Other recent efforts include: Senator Coons’s prior bills in 2011 and 2012; the proposal by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the Silicon Valley–based Democrat, to enact PRATSA (Private Right of Action Against Theft of Trade Secrets Act of 2013); and the 2013 introduction of FAIR (Future of American Innovation and Research Act) by Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. These attempts all failed, never making it out of committee.

The reasons they fell short varied; I won’t rehash them here. But the DTSA is the most comprehensive bill to date, as it addresses a broad swath of trade secret theft and encompasses a robust range of remedies.

The DTSA is better than the current system — one in which each state has its own autonomous civil trade secret law. Today, 48 states have enacted some form of the UTSA, with New Jersey (in 2012) and Texas (in 2013) being the latest adherents. New York and Massachusetts are the only remaining holdouts.

Despite the UTSA’s widespread adoption, the “U” — Uniform — hasn’t lived up to its name. State legislatures often modify the UTSA. And even if every state enacted the same UTSA, there would still be a patchwork because state courts often issue different interpretations of the same UTSA provision.

Trade secret owners, employees, and others in the knowledge economy incur the costs of this state-by-state approach. Facing different laws in different states, they are left to deal with the resulting complications that come with attempts to comply with each state’s laws. And once a dispute arises, these differences also impose costs on courts and litigants, who wage needless battles over forum shopping and choice of law. A federal statute would eliminate these differences and achieve other benefits, such as easing nationwide service of process and discovery.

This isn’t the first time I’ve endorsed some form of a federal trade secret statute. I did so in a 30-page law review article in 2009 and in a five-page Law 360 article in 2013.

I’m not alone in my support of a federal trade secret statute generally and the DTSA specifically. Senator Coons’s April 29, 2014 press release notes that the DTSA has the backing of the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of companies, including 3M, GE, Microsoft, and P&G. The AIPLA’s Trade Secret Law Committee recently voted to endorse the DTSA (disclaimer: I was one of the voting members). And other organizations, including the ABA’s IP Section and the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, announced support for some form of a federal trade secrets act in 2013.

A Criticism

Where the DTSA stumbles is in its promise not to “preempt any other provision of law.” This causes two problems.

First, the need for the DTSA stems in part from state-by-state variations in trade secret laws and the transactional and substantive problems that such variations impose. The DTSA leaves those variations in place. Worse, the DTSA adds another law to the already cluttered landscape of 48 UTSA states (with their variations), two non-UTSA states, the federal Economic Espionage Act, and a federal common trade secret law.

Second, the DTSA opens a backdoor to common-law and other causes of action that are precluded in most states. The UTSA “displaces tort, restitutionary, and other laws…providing civil remedies for misappropriation of a trade secret.” The DTSA doesn’t displace anything.

Under the DTSA, trade secret plaintiffs would have the option of pursuing their claim in state or federal court and, if they choose federal court, the additional option of asserting duplicative causes of actions that aren’t available in state courts.

Why I Still Endorse the DTSA

Trade secrets are the only major type of intellectual property (i.e., copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets) not governed primarily by a federal statute. Copyrights and patents got theirs in the 1700s. Trademark got its in the 1800s. Now that we’re firmly in the information age, it’s time for trade secrets to join their peers.

True, the DTSA is only a partial step toward uniformity, as it leaves the current state-law regime in place and doesn’t preempt overlapping causes of action. But in the absence of a complete transition from a state-based trade secret regime to a federal one, the DTSA is an important step in the right direction.

This post by David S. Almeling does not purport to represent the views of O’Melveny or its clients.

[Update] Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016: Markup and Commentary

by Dennis Crouch

President Obama has signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) into law.  The new law creates a private cause of action for trade secret misappropriation that can be brought in Federal Courts and with international implications. I have created a mark-up (with commentary) of the new law that shows how the DTSA’s amendments to the Economic Espionage Act (EEA).

We have covered the DTSA legislation and legislative process in several Patently-O Posts, including the following:


REPORT AND ANALYSIS OF RECENT AMENDMENTS TO S. 1890 (The Defend Trade Secrets Act 2016)

By Professor Sharon K. Sandeen, Mitchell Hamline School of Law  

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (S. 1890) passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary today, but not before it was amended to address a number of concerns that were voiced by opponents over the past two years. The following is my quick analysis of the changes.  Note that there were actually two sets of amendments to the legislation. The so-called manager’s amendment (labeled “S. 1890 Substitute Amendment”) and amendments offered by Senators Leahy and Grassley (labeled “Leahy-Grassley1”). The following page and line references are to the Substitute Amendment. The Leahy-Grassley amendments are discussed thereafter.  [S.1890 Substitute Amendment][Leahy-Grassley1].

1. S. 1890 Substitute Amendment

Page 1:

The legislation is now to be known as the “Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016” instead of “2015.”

Page 2, line 2:

“Misappropriated” added and language “aggrieved by misappropriation” deleted

Sandeen Comment: This change was apparently made in response to expressed concerns that “aggrieved” might be introducing a new concept of wrongdoing into trade secret law. Since “misappropriation” is a defined term in the DTSA (copied from the UTSA), it is better to stick with that language.

Page 2, lines 11-12:

With respect to the ex parte civil seizure remedy, the language “but only in extraordinary circumstances” was added.

Sandeen Comment: I am not sure what this language adds other than to emphasize the fact that this remedy should rarely be granted. But that begs the question: Why is the remedy needed at all if it will rarely or ever be granted? No one has ever explained to me why egregious cases that might justify such a remedy would not be championed by the U.S. Department of Justice in a criminal case. But there is a clue in later amendments to the EEA criminal provisions that give trade secret owners standing to assert secrecy concerns in such cases. (See report on new Section 3 below).

Page 2, lines 24-25:

The language “another form of equitable relief” was added to limit the circumstances under which an ex parte seizure order could be granted.

Sandeen Comment: As I understand the limitations built into the civil seizure provision, such an order is not to be granted unless other available equitable relief is inadequate. What seems to be lost in the discussion of all forms of equitable relief is that there are legal remedies available, including potential exemplary damages. Typically, equitable relief is not available when such is the case. In this regard, I wonder if “another form of equitable relief” would include a royalty injunction.

Page 4, line 5 et seq:

A new section (V) has been created (and subsequent subsections re-lettered accordingly) to highlight that “the person against whom seizure would be ordered” must have actual possession of both the trade secret and the property to be seized.

Sandeen Comment: While seemingly limiting the scope of the civil seizure remedy, this addition confirms what the opponents of DTSA were afraid of: that the civil seizure remedy can be used to seize property in addition to the actual trade secrets. While the person against whom seizure would be ordered must be shown to have either misappropriated a trade secret or conspired to misappropriate a trade secret, this language is actually much broader than it may seem on the surface. This is because the definition of misappropriation under the DTSA (and the UTSA) can apply to third-parties who were not directly involved in the initial misappropriation, provided they have the requisite (but obviously later acquired) knowledge. For instance, new employers.

Page 5, line 13:

Deletes the language “that are unrelated to the trade secret that has allegedly been misappropriated” in describing the elements of any civil seizure order.

Sandeen Comment: This was apparently intended to limit the scope of a civil seizure order, which is a good thing if it works.

Page 5, line 16 – page 6, line 11: 

Uses “prohibiting” instead of “restricting” and makes other changes to the provision concerning the required content of a civil seizure order, the most significant change being the addition of a new sub section (iv) which requires the court to “provide guidance to law enforcement officials” concerning how they are to execute the order.

Sandeen Comment: This language was undoubtedly added to address concerns that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised during the hearing on DTSA that was held before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in December of 2015. His principal concern related to the use of force in the event that the person against whom seizure would be ordered was uncooperative.  

Page 7, line 13 – page 8, line 22:

The “Materials in Custody” provision was re-labeled and expanded, particularly with respect to the newly labeled sub-section “Storage Medium” and new provisions labeled “Protection of Confidentiality” and “Appointment of a Special Master.”

Sandeen Comment: The added language was undoubtedly added in an attempt to address concerns about the scope of any civil seizure order (including the very real possibility that property not relevant to the trade secret case might be seized), the handling of seized information, and the practical reality that federal court staff is ill equipped to manage such materials. Nothing in the legislation indicates who will pay for the services of a Special Master.

Page 9, line 2-15:

Deleted the language that used to allow state and local officials to execute a civil seizure order and instead specifies that a civil seizure order must be executed by federal law enforcement personnel.  State and local law enforcement personnel can be involved, but they cannot be involved in the actual seizure of property. Further, the court may allow for the use of a technical expert to assist federal law enforcement officials in executing the civil seizure order, again without specifying who will pay for the technical expert.

Sandeen Comment: These amendments address some of the concerns that have been expressed about how a civil seizure order will be executed and how it can be done without including the legitimate business information of the “person against whom civil seizure is ordered.” However, the more that efforts are made to address the concerns of critics, the more the risks of such a remedy are revealed. If this remedy will be used very infrequently as its proponents argue, Congress should ask if the marginal benefits of this remedy are worth its tremendous costs, particularly given the fact that: (1) criminal prosecution and seizure are possible in egregious cases; and (2) plaintiffs in trade secret cases have very robust legal remedies in the event of the loss of trade secrecy.

Page 11, line 6 et seq:   

The standing to file a motion for encryption has been broadened to include both parties to the litigation and “a person who claims an interest in the subject matter seized.”

Sandeen Comment: This is a positive development, but obviously it acknowledges that non-parties may be affected by a civil seizure order and be forced to hire an attorney to protect their interests.

Page 11, line 23 – page 12, line 8: 

The provisions concerning the effect of injunctions on employment were re-worked, re-lettered and expanded. First, the original language was amended so that any injunction must “be based upon evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information a person knows.” Second,   the legislation now includes language which states that an injunction cannot “otherwise conflict with an applicable State law prohibiting restraints on the practice of a lawful profession, trade, or business.”

Sandeen Comment: This is a very positive development that makes it clear that State law governing restrictive covenants, including non-compete agreements, will continue to apply as limits on the scope of injunctive relief. More specifically, it rejects the worst aspects of the inevitable disclosure doctrine which many states (most notably California) have found to be inconsistent with their laws against restrictive covenants, particularly those that restrict employee mobility. Issues of choice of law remain, of course. 

Page 13, line 9: 

The measure of potential exemplary damages has been lowered to 2 times instead of 3 times.

Sandeen Comment: This is a positive development, particularly for the proponents of the DTSA who claim that its primary purpose is greater uniformity in trade secret law. The new language is consistent with the UTSA. However, it appears that this change may have been part of a compromise since (as discussed below), the criminal penalties for a violation of the EEA have been increased.

Page 13, line 23: 

The statute of limitations has been lowered to 3 years from 5 years.

Sandeen Comment: This change also makes the statute of limitations consistent with the language of the UTSA (although some UTSA states have not adopted the statute of limitations specified in the UTSA). This is a positive development because businesses can now be more certain when threats of trade secret litigation will end. Since the statute of limitation follows the discovery rule, plaintiffs will have plenty of time to bring a lawsuit once the facts giving rise to such claims are discovered.

Page 14, line 8:

The definitions provisions of the DTSA must be read alongside the existing definition provisions of the EEA, which is where you will find the definition of a trade secret. A change from earlier versions of the legislation is that the word “public” in 18 U.S.C. §1839 (3)(B)  (the definition of a trade secret) will be substituted with “another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”

Sandeen Comment: This is another positive development that makes the definition of a trade secret under the EEA (as amended) more consistent with the language of the UTSA. Without this amendment, the EEA might be interpreted to include information that is in the public domain under state law. Not changed in the EEA to be consistent with the UTSA is the first part of the definition of a trade secret which, under the EEA, includes a litany of types of information that might qualify for trade secret misappropriation. However, this greater specificity always struck me as necessary since the EEA was initially, and will remain in part, a criminal statute.

Page 17, line 21 – Page 19, line 2:   

A new Section 3 was added titled “Trade Secret Theft Enforcement” and old Section 3 was re-labeled as Section 4. This section increases the penalties for a violation of 18 U.S.C. §1832 from $5,000,000 to the greater of $5,000,000 or 3 times the value of the stolen trade secrets to the organization, including the costs of reproducing the trade secrets. Second, it adds a new provision titled “Rights of Trade Secret Owners” that essentially allows trade secret owners to be heard in criminal court concerning the need to protect their trade secrets. Lastly, it amends 18 U.S.C. §1961 (the RICO statute) to add a violation of the EEA as a predicate act.

Sandeen Comment: At first blush, these changes seem to more directly address the concerns that motivated the proposed legislation and should have been tried first before risking the disruption of U.S. trade secret law by creating a federal civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation. What they reveal is the concern that trade secret owners have about the effectiveness of federal criminal prosecution to stop (or punish) the most egregious cases of trade secret misappropriation. They also reflect the risks to trade secrets posed by the public nature of criminal prosecutions. Robust criminal laws are already on the books to punish those who would engage in the most egregious forms of trade secret misappropriation, but trade secret owners might be hesitant to report such crimes out of fear that their trade secrets might be lost in the process. Allowing trade secret owners to express their confidentiality concerns in a criminal court seems like a good idea. More study of the implications of the RICO provision is needed, particularly with respect to the potential for the over assertion of criminal prosecutions which was a major concern of business interests when the EEA was first adopted.

Page 22, line 23 et seq.:

The re-numbered “Sense of Congress” provision (now Section 5) added point (4) concerning the civil seizure order and Congress’ sense that the need for such a remedy should be balanced  against the risk of interrupting the business of third parties and the legitimate interests of the party accused of wrongdoing.

Sandeen Comment: While this is helpful language, it is interesting that this language is included in the “Sense of Congress” provision and not in the text of the civil seizure provision itself. While Congress is at it, I would urge it to add point (5) to the “Sense of Congress” and state that the DTSA should be interpreted and applied in a manner that is consistent with the commentary to the UTSA.

Page 23, Line 4 et seq:  

New Section 6 was added titled “Best Practices” to require the Federal Judicial Center “using existing resources” to, within two years, recommend best practices related to civil seizure orders.

Sandeen Comment: Again, this indicates that concerns about the abuse of civil seizure orders remain.

2. Leahy-Grassley Amendments

These amendments would add a section to the DTSA, in a place to be determined, titled “Immunity from Liability for Confidential Disclosure of a Trade Secret or in a Court Filing.” This new section is designed to protect whistleblowers from liability for the disclosure of trade secrets to the government and in the context of retaliation lawsuits, provided that steps are taken by the whistleblower to keep such information confidential. It also would require employers to give notice of such immunity to employees, thereby requiring an exception to confidentiality provisions.

Sandeen Comment: This is a very positive development for those who are concerned that the assertion of trade secret rights can be used to prevent the timely disclosure of information that is needed by law enforcement authorities. However, it only applies where there is an alleged violation of law and not, more broadly, in situations where threats to public health exist, for instance.  

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[Prior Patently-O Posts on the DTSA]


Guest post by James Pooley.  Pooley is the former Deputy Director General of WIPO. He recently testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of the Defend Trade Secrets Act. See his earlier Patently-O guest posts . He wishes to thank Prof. Peter Menell for contributing to this post.

Last Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably voted out the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), which would amend the Economic Espionage Act (“EEA”) to give trade secret plaintiffs the option of filing civil claims for misappropriation directly in federal court. The vote reflected broad bipartisan support (there are now 27 cosponsors in the Senate) and followed a substantive hearing on December 2 at which I had the privilege to testify. Since that time a number of senators engaged in discussions about how to improve the legislation. The result was a series of amendments, all of which have been adopted. Because the bill is likely to proceed quickly at this point, it would be useful to describe what has changed and what those changes could mean for practitioners and companies.

The notable amendments generally fall into four categories: (1) harmonizing with existing standards under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”); (2) tightening up the process for preventive seizure of secrets; (3) ensuring that injunctions do not unreasonably restrain employee mobility; and (4) providing an exception for whistleblowers who disclose confidential information in order to report a crime to the authorities. The first three of these are laid out in a “Substitute” for S.1890, and the fourth is described in a separate amendment proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley.


Bringing the DTSA in closer alignment with familiar provisions of the UTSA, the amendments have slightly changed the definition of a trade secret. The EEA had previously required that qualifying information not be known or readily ascertainable to “the public,” while the UTSA had used the phrase “persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.” While it was never clear whether this difference would actually matter when applied in litigation, the UTSA formulation has now been adopted, so that the two laws are congruent. (Some still point to the different list of examples of protectable information in the UTSA and EEA definitions, but this has never been shown to make any difference in the broad meaning of the common basic term “information.”)

The amendments have also changed the term of the statute of limitations from five years to three. Although a number of states have designated longer periods (from four to six years), this brings the DTSA into line with the UTSA as it was originally proposed. In the same vein, the enhanced damages provision, which had allowed a punitive assessment up to three times the compensatory award, has been adjusted to match the provisions of the UTSA at twice the amount of compensatory damages.


The ex parte seizure provisions have been substantially tightened, providing more assurance that this remedy will not be abused. First, the bill now expressly refers to seizure as available only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Second, an ambiguity identified by Senator Whitehouse at the December hearing has been resolved by clarifying that the target of the seizure must be in “actual” possession of the trade secret and property to be seized. Third, access to the seized material is more limited: only federal law enforcement can perform the seizure, with assistance as necessary from state authorities and an independent technical expert, but the applicant is barred. And following the seizure, the court may have the material sorted by a special master who, like the technical expert, must be under confidentiality restrictions. Fourth, in issuing its order the court must direct when the seizure may be carried out, and whether force may be used to access locked areas. Finally, in a new section the bill requires the Federal Judicial Center to develop “best practices” for seizure and handling of electronically stored information.


One of the most interesting and potentially impactful provisions of the amendments concerns the preservation of employee mobility. Recognizing the critical importance of preventive relief to a right that can be so easily destroyed, the UTSA has always permitted injunctions against “threatened misappropriation,” and the same language is used in the DTSA. But because the DTSA would establish a national standard, some expressed fears that the “inevitable disclosure doctrine,” which has been expressly rejected in some states, might be used by federal judges to block an employee from taking a new job. The draft bill had tried to address this concern with a proviso that no injunction could “prevent a person from accepting an offer of employment under conditions that avoid actual or threatened misappropriation,” but this did not quiet the controversy.

To understand the nature of the dispute we need to wind back the clock to 1995, when the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in Pepsico v. Redmond, 54 F.3d 1262 (7th Cir. 1995), affirming a five-month injunction against a former marketing executive who had lied about his plans to take an identical position with another company that was about to launch a directly competitive product. Although the court had emphasized the executive’s bad behavior, it also summarized that “defendant’s new employment will inevitably lead him to rely on the plaintiff’s trade secrets.” Commentators promptly wrenched this phrase from its context and warned that Pepsico could be used to justify enjoining someone from taking a job just because of what he or she knew. This is how the so-called “inevitable disclosure doctrine” was born.

Having (mis)construed Pepsico this way, it was easy for some to make it a target, raising the alarm that “inevitable disclosure” was the equivalent of a post-hoc judicially-imposed non-compete agreement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the backlash was particularly strong in California, where employees are protected by a robust public policy against restrictive covenants. In Whyte v. Schlage Lock, 101 Cal. App. 4th (2002), an intermediate appellate court issued a blistering condemnation of the doctrine and flatly declared it unacceptable under California law. It did this in response to the plaintiff’s argument that the doctrine should be available as an “alternative” to proving “threatened misappropriation.” Just what kind of evidence might be enough to establish a threat under the UTSA was not addressed. However, that question was answered several years later in another appellate decision, Central Valley General Hospital v. Smith, 162 Cal. App. 4th 501 (2008). The court said that evidence of bad behavior, like a prior misappropriation, an intention to misappropriate, or a refusal to return confidential material, would be enough to supply the inference.

In the meantime, however, the ideological battle lines had been drawn, and the forces mustering against inevitable disclosure, reinforced by many academic and popular articles, were determined to stamp it out if possible, or at least to protect their own jurisdiction from infection. The fervor of the debate apparently distracted everyone from critically examining what “inevitable disclosure” meant, or how it was actually being applied in places that didn’t have a reflexive opposition to it. It turns out that the doctrine was almost never used as the opponents assumed, that is where the only threat indicator was how much the employee knew. In fact, in those cases judges typically explained their denials by reminding the plaintiff that if all this information had been so critically important they could have demanded that the employee sign a non-compete agreement.

Following last December’s hearing, and in the wake of continuing concerns over the relevant DTSA language, I reached out to my friend Mark Lemley, professor at Stanford Law School. Mark and I had worked together before on issues relating to California’s “high velocity” labor market, and after some discussion about what appeared to be this false conflict over the inevitable disclosure doctrine, we suggested to Senate staff that the issue could better be reframed around the kind and quality of evidence that should be required – under the UTSA or the DTSA – to prove “threatened misappropriation,” and that the inquiry should focus on the employee’s behavior, not merely on how much they knew.

Ultimately, Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed the relevant portion of the DTSA amendments, which now allows an order against threatened misappropriation, provided that it not “prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship, and that conditions placed on such employment shall be based on evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows.” (In a belt-and-suspenders approach, the DTSA also includes a directly related amendment proposed by Senator John Cornyn that the order may not “otherwise conflict with an applicable State law prohibiting restraints on the practice of a lawful profession, trade, or business.”)

The new language on threatened misappropriation has at least two very positive effects. First, it makes express the apparent consensus from the courts that “threatened” misappropriation may not be established merely by the importance of the information that someone knows. This makes sense not only as a matter of public policy but also of evidence law. Second, it relieves us from the energy-draining debate over “inevitable disclosure,” which was pretty much a straw man that people loved to punch. Courts will not have to consider whether a jurisdiction accepts or rejects this abstract “doctrine,” but instead will ask: what is the actual evidence from which we should conclude that this person (or their new employer) can’t be trusted to honor the integrity of the plaintiff’s trade secrets? Outcomes in particular cases should not be substantially different.


A second major amendment was offered separately by Senators Leahy and Grassley, addressing a new, and in my opinion long neglected, question: how do we assure that employees and contractors who come upon evidence of illegal activity, but who are constrained by nondisclosure agreements from communicating those facts, can safely speak to their lawyers and to law enforcement officials? One might think that this question would already have been reliably answered by now, but it hasn’t been. In a wide-ranging and thoughtful on the subject, Tailoring a Public Policy Exception to Trade Secret Protection, Professor Peter Menell of the UC Berkeley School of Law explores not only the sparse, murky, and sometimes contradictory legal authority, but also the psychology of whistleblowing and the importance of a clear “safe harbor” for those who are thinking of reporting wrongdoing. As he notes, “[t]he same routine non-disclosure agreements that are essential to safeguarding trade secrets can be and are used to chill those in the best position to reveal illegal activity.”  As a practical matter, employees and contractors face a stark dilemma, where the upside is a clear conscience (and possibly a reward for uncovering fraud) but the downside can involve painful and relentless retaliation as well as personal, financial, legal, and professional risk. Insulating the whistleblower from costly trade secret exposure serves larger societal interests in law enforcement, tax compliance, and surfacing and deterring securities fraud and fraud against the government..

Yet because of the difficulty of enforcing trade secrets once they leak, companies risk potentially significant losses if employees or contractors mistakenly disclose legitimate trade secrets—i.e., those that do not reveal illegal conduct. Peter’s article provided a balanced and effective solution to this dilemma that protects whistleblowers without jeopardizing disclosure of legitimate trade secrets. The proposed safe harbor insulates whistleblowers and their counsel from trade secret liability for disclosing trade secret information in confidence to government officials or as part of a lawsuit alleging retaliation by an employer provided that the information is filed under seal. (The federal Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1905, generally prohibits governmental employees from disclosing trade secrets.) The proposed statutory exception to trade secret liability provides clear assurance to potential whistleblowers that they do not violate their NDAs merely by consulting legal counsel regarding reporting allegedly illegal conduct to a responsible government official through a confidential channel. In addition, this safe harbor insulates lawyers advising potential whistleblowers about their options and serving as conduits for presenting evidence of allegedly illegal conduct to the government. The efficacy of the safe harbor is enhanced by requiring that NDAs prominently include notice of the law reporting safe harbor to ensure that those with knowledge of illegal conduct are aware of this important public policy limitation on NDAs and exercise due care with trade secrets in reporting such activity.

After Peter’s article appeared just as the DTSA was gaining momentum in the fall, the Senate staff reached out to him to help craft appropriate language. The Leahy/Grassley amendment provides immunity under federal or state law against any claim for violation of an individual’s nondisclosure obligations for disclosure, made in confidence, to (a) an attorney or government official, for the purpose of reporting or investigating a violation of law, or (b) a filing made under seal in a lawsuit “or other proceeding.” In order to ensure that employees (a term that also includes contractors) know about their rights, employers are required to give an appropriate notice in the nondisclosure agreement (as is often done now with state inventor statutes), although this can be a reference to the company’s separate policy document. A failure to comply with the notice provision would block any award of attorneys’ fees or enhanced damages against an employee under the DTSA. Significantly – and this point was emphasized by Senator Feinstein at the hearing on January 28 – the whistleblower protection would not extend to any otherwise improper acts by the employee, such as hacking information in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.


The DTSA in its current form is a strong bill, meeting its original objective of giving plaintiffs access to federal courts, which are better equipped to handle cases of interstate or international misappropriation of trade secrets. In my opinion, all reasonable objections have been adequately addressed, and there are sufficient protections built in against abuse. Moreover, passage of this bill would substantially improve the environment for both plaintiffs and defendants, by making trade secret litigation more predictable, establishing a national standard for issues like “threatened misappropriation,” and striking the right balance of interests to promote responsible efforts by whistleblowers to report possible violations of law.

What the Defend Trade Secrets Act Means for Trade Secret Defendants

Guest Post By Maxwell Goss. Dr. Goss is a business litigation attorney with McDonald Hopkins PLC in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His practice focuses on trade secret, noncompete, patent, trademark, and shareholder litigation.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA)—arguably the most sweeping change to the nation’s intellectual property laws in a generation or more—is about to become law. The bill recently passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Obama is certain to sign the bill into law.

Much has already been written about the powerful new tools the DTSA gives to businesses looking to protect their trade secrets. Dennis Crouch, who has been covering the DTSA extensively, recently commented on those tools here, and I have written about them here. Most notably, the DTSA allows a trade secret owner to seek to have law enforcement officials seize property—without advance notice to the accused—to prevent dissemination of the trade secrets at issue.

But how do defendants fare under the DTSA? For example, suppose a business accuses its former employee of taking a confidential customer list or technical information when the employee left the company, and files suit under the DTSA. Or suppose another company hires someone accused of trade secret theft, and the person’s former employer sues the company for conspiracy under the DTSA. What does the DTSA mean for the accused?

Without a doubt, the DTSA gives some advantages to trade secret owners. But it also contains protections that defendants should take advantage of. These include a process for challenging an improper seizure of property, employment protections in the event of an injunction, and recovery of attorney’s fees for actions brought in bad faith. In the right circumstances, these provisions could give a trade secret defendant the upper hand.

Challenging an Improper Seizure

Under the DTSA, a person may have a laptop, server, storage device, papers, or other property forcibly taken into custody without advance notice. Litigants must keep in mind that this is an extraordinary remedy. Before seizure can be ordered, the applicant must show, among other things, that the accused person would evade an ordinary injunction and that the accused person would destroy or hide the property if given advance notice.

A key aspect of the DTSA for defendants is its requirement that a hearing be held within seven days of a seizure order, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. At the hearing, the trade secret owner will have to prove the facts and law necessary to support the order. This hearing can provide a chance for the defendant to set the tone of the case by attacking the trade secret owner’s position and possibly getting the seizure order dissolved. The DTSA also expressly permits modification of the usual time limits for discovery “to prevent the frustration of the purposes” of the seizure hearing. For the defendant who acts quickly, this may mean that expedited document production or even a helpful deposition could be obtained in advance of the seizure hearing.

Employment Protection

Injunctions sought in trade secret cases frequently involve restrictions on employment. For example, where a former employee is accused of misappropriating trade secrets, the former employer may try to obtain an order enjoining the person from disclosing the trade secrets to a competitor, using the trade secrets in service of a competitor, or even working for a competitor at all. Under the DTSA, an injunction to prevent actual or threatened misappropriation may not “prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship.” Moreover, any conditions that an injunction may place on a person’s employment may not be based “merely on information the person knows.” Instead, there must be evidence that the trade secret information at issue will actually be misappropriated. Counsel for the accused will of course seek to avoid any injunction. But where one is entered, counsel should ensure that these requirements are strictly followed.

Attorney’s Fees for Bad Faith

Finally, the DTSA provides that the accused may recover his or her reasonable attorney’s fees from the plaintiff if (among other things) the claim of misappropriation was made in bad faith. While existing state laws generally contain similar provisions, the DTSA is unique in adding expressly that bad faith “may be established by circumstantial evidence.” This is significant given that direct evidence of bad faith—say, an admission by the plaintiff that the claim was without merit—can be exceedingly difficult to obtain. One place to look for evidence of bad faith would be the affidavits submitted by the plaintiff in connection with an application for ex parte seizure.

In short, while the DTSA tightens the screws for those accused of trade secret misappropriation, it also contains important provisions allowing defendants to challenge improper claims and to limit their impact even where relief may be granted.

Guest Post: Why we Need a Seizure Remedy in the Defend Trade Secrets Act


Guest post by James Pooley.  Pooley is the former Director General of WIPO. He recently testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of the Defend Trade Secrets Act. See his earlier Patently-O guest post here.


In a recent essay published in the Washington and Lee Law Review Online,[1] Professor Eric Goldman of the Santa Clara University School of Law criticized the ex parte seizure provisions of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), which is pending before Congress in identical Senate (S.1890) and House (H.R.3326)  bills. In his view, the legislation is unnecessary, unprecedented, and carries an unacceptably high risk of abuse and collateral damage.

I strongly disagree. Trade secrets face far different threats in the digital age, and having federal courts able to intervene immediately in cross-border cases is critical. In exceptional circumstances, impoundment of a secret by the court will do what this sort of remedy has always done: get the property out of the hands of someone who threatens to destroy it or flee the jurisdiction, so that the matter can be heard on notice before the harm occurs. The seizure provisions of the DTSA have been carefully constrained to prevent abuse, to minimize harm, and to discourage any but the most compelling applications.


Most trade secret theft can be adequately addressed with preventive orders entered after a noticed hearing. This is because most actors in these cases can be expected to follow the orders of a court, and because our legal tradition values notice and the higher quality of information that is produced by the adversarial process.

Notwithstanding that preference, as we all learned in civil procedure class, courts in extraordinary cases may act without giving notice because of an acute danger to someone or something. This has been true across the range of legal disciplines, including trade secrets, and the majority of state laws, as well as the Federal Rules, have acknowledged this by articulating the high bar that a plaintiff has to meet before any matter can be heard ex parte. While that bar is necessary to ensure the case is exceptional, the flip side of the coin is that the harm to be avoided is irreparable.

Professor Goldman argues that the DTSA will be useless against the thief who plans to hijack information over the Internet, or who is on his way to the airport with the secrets in his pocket. But these scenarios only prove the need for a federal remedy: when a trade secret owner discovers that such a thing is about to occur, he can’t waste time figuring out what some county court might do. If there is a chance that a surprise intervention by law enforcement can prevent the loss, it is a federal court that is in the best position to respond and to deliver process that works across state lines. Like a terrorist attack, we can only hope to be vigilant and discover it before the button is pushed. But when we do have that kind of information, we also should be able to deploy the most effective tools to prevent the harm. In the right circumstances, one of those tools should be law enforcement, acting under the guidance and supervision of a federal court, to take temporary possession of the trade secret. That is the focus of the DTSA seizure provisions.


In his essay, Professor Goldman asserts that the seizure provisions “would represent an unprecedented innovation. No state trade secret law has a trade secret-specific ex parte seizure process [that is] similar . . . .” This stretches the meaning of “unprecedented” pretty far. He gets away with it only because the second sentence is so narrowly drawn, claiming only that no state has a “trade secret-specific ” process. But that doesn’t mean that states have not used broadly applicable seizure procedures in trade secret cases. In fact they have, although they may call them by another name, such as sequestration, or attachment. Texas, for example, allows for ex parte sequestration in a variety of circumstances, and it has been applied in at least one case to software. See Glenn, Ex-Parte Seizure of Intellectual Property Goods, 9 Tex. Intell. Prop. L.J. 307 (2001) (discussing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §62.001, and, Inc. v. Bell, 2000 U.S. Dist. Lexis 14283 (N.D. Tex. July 20, 2000)).

Moreover, the UTSA itself includes § 2(a), which “authorizes mandatory injunctions requiring that a misappropriator return the fruits of misappropriation to an aggrieved person, e.g., the return of stolen blueprints or the surrender of surreptitious photographs or recordings.” Commissioners’ Comment, 14 U.L.A. at 451. While the Act doesn’t expressly authorize granting such injunctions ex parte, neither does it prohibit them. Again, the circumstances justifying issuance of an order without notice have traditionally been defined by local rules in state courts and by FRCP Rule 65 in federal courts.

Indeed, Professor Goldman acknowledges that trade secret owners “already may seek ex parte TROs, including impoundment,” under FRCP Rule 65, reinforcing this with the statement that “existing federal TRO procedures already provide for ex parte seizures for trade secret owners.” He finds this authority in the Committee Notes to the 2001 amendments, which explains that “impoundment may be ordered on an ex parte basis under subdivision (b) [of Rule 65] if the applicant makes a strong showing of the reasons why notice is likely to defeat effective relief.” While he uses this reference to argue that the DTSA seizure provisions are unnecessary, it directly contradicts his claim that they are “unprecedented.”


Another reason why the “unprecedented” argument fails is that the DTSA seizure language was directly patterned on the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1116(d), expressly authorizing ex parte seizure and impoundment of counterfeit goods. As a condition of such an order, the statute requires that it clearly appear from specific facts sworn by the applicant that some other order would not be adequate, that the applicant is likely to succeed on the merits, that immediate and irreparable injury will occur without the order, and that the “matter to be seized” is located at a specific place. Execution of an order has to be by law enforcement, and seized materials must be held by the court in accordance with a protective order to prevent disclosure of confidential information. The plaintiff must be prohibited from publicizing the order or getting access to the defendant’s trade secrets in the course of the seizure. Finally, a hearing has to be held between ten and fifteen days later, at which the plaintiff will have the burden to demonstrate continuing justification for the order.

The DTSA imposes all of these same restrictions, but adds more. Only property “necessary to prevent propagation or dissemination of the trade secret” can be seized. This means, for example, that records and other evidence of the acts of misappropriation or misuse cannot be taken away, thereby reducing the risk of disruption to the defendant’s other business operations. In fact, the court is specifically required to order only “the narrowest seizure of property necessary” and to provide that the seizure “be conducted in a manner that . . . does not interrupt the legitimate business operations of the [defendant] that are unrelated to the trade secret that has allegedly been misappropriated.”

As with other predicate requirements, the plaintiff’s showing must “clearly” demonstrate “from specific facts” that the information is a trade secret, that the target of the seizure has the secret in their possession, and that if notice were given the target “would destroy, move, hide, or otherwise make such matter inaccessible to the court . . . .” (This latter requirement provides assurance to cloud vendors and others who might be holding information for someone accused of misappropriation.) And the merits hearing must be held no more than seven days later (not ten to fifteen as in the Lanham Act), during which time anyone affected by the order may move to modify or dissolve it.


So it should be obvious – particularly to any practitioner that has tried to convince a federal judge to issue any sort of ex parte order – that getting relief under this section will be very, very difficult. And while making it hard to get is the first line of defense against abuse of any legal process, the legislation provides serious consequences in case it turns out that the plaintiff was wrong. In the first instance, the court has to require a bond adequate “for the payment of the damages that any person may be entitled to recover as a result of a wrongful or excessive seizure” or attempted seizure. But the amount of the bond is only a guarantee and “shall not limit the recovery” of damages for wrongful seizure. Those damages are expressly tied to the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1116(d)(11), which includes lost profits, cost of materials, loss of good will, punitive damages where bad faith is shown, and attorneys fees.

In other words, the risk analysis that any litigant must do before requesting a seizure remedy is not just that it might try and fail – although in my experience that is a very likely outcome – but that if it succeeds in getting the order it may be found to have oversold its case. Federal judges are not known for suffering fools gladly, and in addition to the opportunity to impose liability for damages they have Rule 11 sanctions in their tool kit. Therefore we can reasonably assume that the vast majority of counsel will exercise good judgment in discouraging marginal applications, and that to the extent any abusive behavior occurs, appropriate consequences will be imposed, just as they have been in other areas of the law.


Professor Goldman envisions the future without giving sufficient weight to the past or present. Of course there is risk involved in this as in all other processes run by humans. The relevant questions are: how important is the goal, how serious are the risks, and what can be done — informed by our analogous experience — to mitigate those risks to an acceptable level? By any objective measure, the authors of the DTSA have done their job well, and we have reliable answers.

The goal — having a federal resource that matches the modern threat of irreparable harm to an essential industrial asset — is critically important, not just for the limited number of cases where the tool will be used, but also for those that will not mature into problems because it is there. The abstract risk of meritless, abusive applications to federal courts must of course be acknowledged, but our experience with similar procedures shows what it takes to discourage such behavior. And the measures written into the seizure provisions of the DTSA — demanding the greatest care and judicial scrutiny possible and imposing very serious consequences for getting it wrong — provide a generous margin of comfort to conclude that seizures will happen only where necessary and where properly controlled to minimize harm.

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The Defend Trade Secrets Act and Inevitable Disclosure

When Can a Company That Hires its Competitor’s Former Employee Be Sued in Federal Court?

Guest post by Maxwell Goss.  Dr. Goss is a business litigator with Rossman Saxe, P.C. in Troy, Michigan. His practice focuses on non-compete, trade secret, intellectual property, and shareholder law and litigation.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) was enacted a year ago, on May 11, 2016. One of the most sweeping changes in intellectual property law in recent years, the statute creates a private cause of action for trade secret misappropriation under federal law.

For trade secret owners, the advantages of the DTSA include access to nationwide discovery and enhanced remedies such as ex parte seizure of property to prevent propagation of stolen trade secrets. For those accused of trade secret theft, the DTSA provides substantial protections including strict limitations on the injunctive relief available and entitlement to a hearing no later than seven days after a property seizure.

An open question has been the status of the controversial “inevitable disclosure” doctrine under the DTSA. Under state law in some jurisdictions, courts will enjoin a company’s former employee from working for a competitor if the company establishes that the employee would “inevitably” use its trade secrets in his or her new position. Trade secret owners like the doctrine of inevitable disclosure because actual misappropriation can be hard to prove. At the same time, the doctrine has been criticized as effectively allowing courts to impose a non-compete on someone who never signed a non-compete agreement.

How does inevitable disclosure fare under the DTSA? The statute provides that an injunction to prevent misappropriation may not “prevent a person from entering into an employment relationship,” and that any conditions placed on a person’s employment in an injunction must be based on “evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows.” In light of this language, some have concluded that the inevitable disclosure doctrine is a dead letter under the DTSA.

But a recent court opinion indicates otherwise. Interestingly, the opinion was issued on May 11, 2017, the one-year anniversary of the DTSA, by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, a federal court in the Seventh Circuit, where inevitable disclosure was first definitively recognized. In Molon Motor and Coil Corp. v. Nidec Motor Corp., the plaintiff, a maker of bespoke motors and gearmotors, sued a competitor after an employee who had allegedly downloaded the plaintiff’s designs and technical data went to work for the competitor.

The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing (among other things) that the DTSA did not apply because the alleged acts at issue occurred before the DTSA was enacted in May 2016. The court rejected this argument. Noting that the “key question is whether the inference of inevitable disclosure reasonably extends to continued use beyond the Act’s effective date,” the Court reasoned:

At least on the limited record—the Third Amended Complaint—the alleged trade secrets are not of the nature that would necessarily go stale in the course of a couple of years. A motor design, and the quality control data associated with it, plausibly would retain its trade secret value well into the future. If it is plausible that some of the alleged trade secrets maintain their value today, then it is also plausible that Nidec would be continuing to use them. Of course, further discovery could upend any or all of this, but at this stage, continued use beyond the May 2016 effective date is plausible.

In short, even though the plaintiff company’s former employee had allegedly downloaded the files and gone to work for the competitor before the DTSA went into effect, the court found it plausible that there was a “continuing use” of the information by the competitor after the statute went into effect. Based on this finding, the court allowed the plaintiff to go forward on its DTSA claim.

How does this ruling square with the DTSA, which requires that an injunction be based on “evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely on the information the person knows”? Though the Molon opinion does not connect the dots, the answer, in part, seems to be that the opinion was addressing a motion to dismiss, not a motion for injunction. A court may not be able to enjoin someone based on inevitable disclosure under the DTSA, but this does not mean a plaintiff may not sue someone based on inevitable disclosure under the DTSA. That is, even where injunctive relief may not be available as an initial matter, a trade secret owner might nevertheless file a claim and move forward with discovery—which could ultimately turn up the evidence necessary to fully substantiate a claim.

Molon represents a significant development in the body of law unfolding under the DTSA. In jurisdictions where inevitable disclosure is recognized, the ruling could help trade secret owners get a case off the ground even where information obtainable in a pre-suit investigation is necessarily limited. On the other hand, defendants will be quick to point out that Molon does not alter the specific allegations needed to plead a trade secret claim premised on an inevitable disclosure theory. Moreover, where an injunction is sought, it should be emphasized that any conditions placed on employment under the statute must be based on evidence of threatened misappropriation and not merely information the person knows.

What the Defend Trade Secrets Act Means for Trade Secret Defendants

Immediate action for Human Resource Departments on the Defend Trade Secrets Act

by Dennis Crouch

The Key: Starting May 12, 2016 all employers will be required by Federal Law to provide a notice-of-immunity to employees and contractors “in any contract or agreement with an employee [or independent contractor] that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.” (If the DTSA is enacted as expected.)

Whistle Blower Immunity: The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) amends 18 U.S.C. 1832 to provide limited whistle blower immunity. The headline for the provision is “immunity from liability for confidential disclosure of a trade secret to the government or in a court filing.”  Thus, an action that would otherwise count as trade secret misappropriation will be immunized if the disclosure:

(A) is made (i) in confidence to a Federal, State, or local government official, either directly or indirectly, or to an attorney; and (ii) solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law; or (B) is made in a complaint or other document filed in a lawsuit or other proceeding, if such filing is made under seal.

The statute is clear that the immunity extends to protect against both state and federal law; both civil and criminal allegations.  A statute also (unnecessarily in my view) includes a provision that allows someone “who files a lawsuit for retaliation by an employer for reporting a suspected violation of law” to disclose trade secrets to his attorney and “use the trade secret information in the court proceeding” so long as documents containing the trade secrets are filed under seal and are not disclosed except by court order.[1]

Under these rules, it seems that the party planning to disclose another’s trade secret in open court should first seek an order of permission from the judge. And, at that point, the court will be required to allow the third party to explain the importance of the trade secret.[2]

Required Notice to Employees and Independent Contractors: Under the provision, employers are required to provide notice of the immunity “in any contract or agreement with an employee [or independent contractor] that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.”  The statute suggests that this may be done via reference to a policy document rather than restating the entire immunity provisions in each agreement.  The statute does not appear to have any small-business exception to the notice requirement.

Failure to Comply with the Notice Requirement has a fairly small penalty: If the employer later sues the employee (or independent contractor) for trade secret misappropriation under the DTSA, the employer will not be able to collect exemplary double-damages or attorney fees.  No other specific penalties are provided, but neither does the statute indicate that these are the sole potential penalties.  I could imagine the FTC pursuing employers who fail to provide the notice (but likely only as part of a larger enforcement campaign). In addition, you might imagine a class action suit against major employers who fail to provide the notice. Finally, since this is a requirement of all contracts involving trade secret or confidential information, failure to provide the notice in a particular instance could be seen as evidence that either (1) there was no agreement or (2) the agreement did not involve trade secrets.[3]

Who Needs the Notice?: The notice requirement applies to employees as well as “any individual performing work as a contractor or consultant for an employer.”  Although the statute does not define ‘individual,’ I believe that the best interpretation is that individuals include only humans and not business entities. This conclusion is based upon the statute’s implicit distinction between “entities” and “individuals.”  A common situation might be a start-up company contracting with a cleaning company to do the janitorial work.  Do the people doing the actual vacuuming and cleaning need to have received the notice?  The statutory answer to that will depend upon how a court construes the language “performing work as a contractor or consultant for an employer.”  At this point, a cautious trade secret holder who wants the benefits of notice would ensure that those individuals are also provided notice.

Timing:  The DTSA will be effective once enacted and apply to “any act” that “occurs on or after the date of enactment.”  I expect that President Obama will sign the DTSA on May 11, 2016 and that will be its enactment date.  The notice requirement will “apply to contracts and agreements that are entered into or updated after the date of enactment of this subsection.”  Thus, as of May 12, 2016 employers must begin providing notice under the law.

Earlier this week, the White House issued a new white paper on the problems created by the existence of so-many covenants not-to-compete binding low-skilled workers.  Of course, this new notice requirement will mean that more employer HR departments will now be considering if it is time to add those contracts (along with the notice requirement).

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[1] A potential hole in the provisions involves arbitration proceedings (that are common in employee disputes) since, immunity applies to court disclosures and disclosures to government officials, but not expressly to private arbitrators.

[2] This process is outlined in the newly added 18 U.S.C. § 1835(b).

[3] I think it is an important topic for another time stems from how the statute subtly distinguishes between a “contract” and an “agreement” and also between “trade secrets” and “other confidential information.”

Implementing and Interpreting the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA)

undefinedI am looking forward to our event at the University of Missouri School of Law on Friday, March 10, 2017: Implementing and Interpreting the Defend Trade Secrets Act.  Sponsored by our Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship (CIPE) and the Business, Entrepreneurshisp & Tax Law Review (BETR)

Key Points for Friday:

Speakers include Mark Halligan from FisherBroyles in Chicago; Peter Menell, Professor at University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Robin Effron,
Professor at Brooklyn Law School; Yvette Joy Liebesman, Professor at
Saint Louis University School of Law; Orly Lobel, Professor at
University of San Diego School of Law; and me (Crouch).

Some Background Reading:

  • Menell, Peter S., Misconstruing Whistleblower Immunity Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (January 3, 2017). UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2893181. Available at SSRN:
  • Effron, Robin, Trade Secrets, Extraterritoriality, and Jurisdiction (December 1, 2016). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 6, 2016; Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 475. Available at SSRN:
  • Lobel, Orly, Enforceability TBD: From Status to Contract in Intellectual Property Law (June 2, 2016). Boston University Law Review, Vol. 96, 2016; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 16-217. Available at SSRN:
  • Goldman, Eric, Ex Parte Seizures and the Defend Trade Secrets Act (November 30, 2015). Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 72, No. 284, 2015. Available at SSRN:
  • Cannan, John, A (Mostly) Legislative History of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (May 4, 2016). Available at SSRN:


A Comparison of the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the US Defend Trade Secrets Act

Guest post by Mark Ridgway and Taly Dvorkis, Allen & Overy, LLP, London. 

It has been a busy year for law makers seeking better protection for trade secrets.  Much coverage has been given to the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), which provides a federal private right of action for trade secret protection.  President Obama signed the DTSA on May 11, and the law takes effect immediately.  Patently-O has covered the DTSA legislation and legislative process in several posts here.

On May 17 the European Council is expected to formally adopt the Trade Secrets Directive, requiring all Member States to provide certain minimum standards for trade secret protection.  Member States will have two years to implement the provisions of the Directive into their own national laws.

How do the US and EU positions on trade secrets compare?  Below are the key similarities and differences between the DTSA and the European Trade Secrets Directive.

What has led to these Legislative Changes?

The desire for harmonization of trade secret protection has spurred these movements both in the US and the EU.  According to the European Commission, the lack of a uniform European approach has resulted in a “fragmentation of the internal market” and “weakening of the overall deterrent effect of the relevant rules.”  The EU Directive seeks to harmonize the laws of the various member states by providing a consistent definition of what qualifies as a “trade secret.”  Additionally, the Directive addresses the remedies available to trade secret holders and the measures courts can use to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets in legal proceedings.

In the U.S., the DTSA arose from a desire to federalize trade secret protection, which had thus far been dominated by state law (although most states had previously adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), published by the Uniform Law Commission in 1979).  While certain federal protection previously existed in the form of the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, the DTSA provides an individual right sue in federal court, thus obviating the need to bring private actions in various state courts where procedures differ greatly.

How is “Trade Secret” Defined?

Under both the EU Trade Secrets Directive and the DTSA, to qualify as a trade secret the information at issue must be kept confidential and must derive economic value from being kept confidential.

Article 2 of the Trade Secrets Directive defines a trade secret as information which meets all of the following requirements:

  1. is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question;
  2. has commercial value because it is secret;
  3. has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.

This definition tracks the definition for “undisclosed information” provided in article 39(2) of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement), which requires all signatories to afford some level of protection for confidential information.

The DTSA definition of “trade secret”, meanwhile, consists of “all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible, and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing if-

  1. the owner thereof has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret; and
  2. the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, the another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”

As seen, whether in Europe or in the U.S., to be considered a trade secret the information must be kept confidential and derive an economic value from the fact that it is confidential.  Both the EU Directive and the DTSA are aimed at protecting commercial confidential information.  What is not required is that the information be entirely novel, a distinction from other forms of intellectual property.  Further, the EU Directive makes explicit that combinations of otherwise publicly available information can be protected provided they are not readily accessible or generally known.

Confidentiality in Litigation

The EU Directive and DTSA have similar provisions for the preservation of confidentiality during legal proceedings for trade secret misappropriation.  In the U.S. the ability to file confidential documents under seal to maintain secrecy has long been an option open to litigants.  The DTSA specifically sets out that a court may not authorize or direct the disclosure of information unless the owner is first given the opportunity to file a submission under seal describing the interest in keeping the information confidential.  The DTSA therefore extends the option of filing briefs under seal to include disclosure at trial and in court opinions, and also allows non-parties to request that certain information be kept confidential.

The EU Directive similarly addresses preserving confidentiality during legal proceedings.  The Directive sets out that an applicant must first supply a “duly reasoned” application as to why certain information should be kept confidential.  The maintenance of secrecy is therefore not the default position, and requires court approval.  It remains to be seen how the national laws of the Member States will implement the Directive and how courts will interpret what qualifies as a “duly reasoned” application.  In some countries this will require minimum changes (for instance, in the U.K. no change will be required), while in others it will be a more significant cultural and legal shift.

Protection for Whistle-blowers

The protections for whistle-blowers and press freedom have been a significant part of the public debate concerning the EU Directive.  Opponents of the Directive expressed concern that, as a result of the Directive, journalists and whistle-blowers could be criminalized for publishing information that companies consider secret.  However, the EU Directive specifically sets out that it should not prevent whistle-blowers and those publishing trade secrets to serve the public interest from doing so.  Moreover, there are no criminal provisions in the Directive.  The Directive states:

The measures, procedures and remedies provided for in this Directive should not restrict whistleblowing activity. Therefore, the protection of trade secrets should not extend to cases in which disclosure of a trade secret serves the public interest, insofar as directly relevant misconduct, wrongdoing or illegal activity is revealed. This should not be seen as preventing the competent judicial authorities from allowing an exception to the application of measures, procedures and remedies in a case where the respondent had every reason to believe in good faith that his or her conduct satisfied the appropriate criteria set out in this Directive.

This exception for whistle-blower activity is much broader than that provided by the DTSA.  The DTSA provides immunity from liability for disclosing a trade secret only when the disclosure is confidential and made to the government or in a court filing (under seal).  There is no specified exception for journalists or other public good-doers, although arguably the First Amendment provides protection.  The DTSA does include a provision by which employers must notify their employees of the protection available under the new law, a notice requirement which is not present in the EU Directive.  Employee is defined broadly by the DTSA to include those working as contractors or consultants.


The most controversial part of the DTSA has been the introduction of an ex parte seizure order as a federal measure.  Under the DTSA, a court can issue an order for the seizure of property “necessary to prevent the propagation or dissemination of the trade secret that is the subject of the action.”  Additional remedies include injunctions and damages, where an injunction is deemed most appropriate for any continuing harm.  For previous harm, a court may award damages for actual loss or any unjust enrichment.  A court can also choose to award damages measured by a reasonable royalty for the unauthorized use of the trade secret.  As with other protection of intellectual property, violation of the DTSA done wilfully or maliciously may result in a court awarding enhanced damages as well as attorneys’ fees.

The EU Directive similarly allows for injunctions, damages measured as lost profits, account of profits, or a reasonable royalty for the trade secret use (paid as a lump sum).  The Directive also allows for provisional and precautionary measures, and says that Member States can provide for more far reaching protection, so long as the safeguards in the Directive are met.

The EU Directive does not call for enhanced damages for malicious activity, but rather approaches damages from the opposite viewpoint, specifying that Member States may limit the liability for damages of employees for misappropriating trade secrets if the employee acted without intent.

Employee Mobility and Non-Compete Agreements

In the sensitive area of employee mobility and competition, the Directive specifically states that it shall not offer any ground for restricting the mobility of employees.  However, the Directive does not include any requirement to harmonize the laws in relation to post-termination restrictions or non-compete clauses, meaning that national laws will continue to apply.

The DTSA addresses employee mobility in requiring that an injunction against a former employee be “based on evidence of threatened misappropriation” of trade secret information and not simply on the fact that the person may know certain information.  The DTSA also states that any injunction preventing or limiting future employment cannot conflict with applicable state laws protecting employee mobility.  Shortly before the DTSA took effect, the White House released a report that criticizes non-compete agreements and state laws that offer too much protection for such agreements.  While no immediate action is expected following the report, it is offered as a discussion point in considering what is necessary in non-compete agreements and how states should treat them.

Limitation Period

In the U.S., the limitation period for a company to bring an action under the DTSA is three years after the date on which the misappropriation is discovered or could have been discovered with reasonable diligence.  The EU Directive gives the Member States the freedom to set the limitation period for their respective national laws, but sets the maximum period at six years (albeit Member States have discretion as to when the clock starts to run).


It is obviously desirable that trade secret protection be consistent across borders, whether state or national, as protection is only as strong as its weakest link.  In the U.S., the DTSA specifically sets out a requirement that the Attorney General provide a report on the threats of trade secret theft outside the U.S. and the protection of trade secrets afforded by U.S. trading partners.  How the EU Directive and DTSA play out as Member States implement the Directive and courts interpret the laws will help shape trade secret protection around the globe.

March 10: Implementing and Evaluating the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016.

I am really looking forward to our next event here at Mizzou sponsored by the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship.  March 10: Implementing and Evaluating the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016Featured Speakers include Berkeley Law Professor Peter Menell and Trade Secrets Expert Mark Halligan (among others).  I am really excited about our dynamic keynote speaker Professor Orly Lobel from the University of San Diego.  Professor Lobel is the author of the great book Talent Wants to Be Free



  • University of Missouri School of Law (Courtroom)
  • March 10, 2017: 8:25 am – 2:00 pm.
  • No cost to attend – CLE as well.

Let me know if you are planning to attend, I would love to meet up in person – Dennis Crouch (

Extra-Territorial Application of the Defend Trade Secrets Act

by Dennis Crouch

When U.S. courts interpret U.S. statutes, they tend to read an inherent territorial limitation into the law.   “It is a long-standing principle of American law that legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” Morrison v. National Australia, 130 S.Ct. 2869 (2010) (internal quotation omitted). However, when Congress clearly requires a longer reach, the courts oblige.

The Economic Espionage Act (EEA) includes a provision regarding its “applicability to conduct outside the United States.” 18 U.S.C. § 1837.  Section 1837 was left unchanged with DTSA’s amendments to EEA, but seemingly applies to the new private civil cause of action for trade secret misappropriation. The provision offers important insight on how the new cause of action can be applied in the foreign context.  Most importantly, a (1) U.S. corporation or citizen can be held liable for trade secret misappropriation under the DTSA regardless of whether the misappropriation occurred abroad; and (2) an entity can be held liable under the DTSA for foreign misappropriation if “an act in furtherance of the offense was committed in the United States.”

The provision:

This chapter also applies to conduct occurring outside the United States if—

(1) the offender is a natural person who is a citizen or permanent resident alien of the United States, or an organization organized under the laws of the United States or a State or political subdivision thereof; or

(2) an act in furtherance of the offense was committed in the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 1837 (DTSA Amendments) (The EEA/DTSA is collectively codified in Chapter 90 of Title 18).   It will be interesting to watch this play-out, but I expect that we will see a number of extra-territorial and cross-border cases over the next few years.

= = = = =


  1. To be clear, a court would still need personal jurisdiction over the defendant. See International Shoe.  
  2. A possible but unlikely limitation on the extraterritorial application could occur if the courts read a territorial limitation into the definition of trade secret such that information is only protectable under the DTSA if created and/or stored in the U.S.