The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If I had to make three predictions for 2018, they would have been as follows:
(1) Legislators across the U.S. will introduce non-compete bills, which will advance at a glacial pace with incredibly unimpressive results.
(2) Frivolous non-compete and trade secrets suits will continue unabated, and I will break three keyboards writing about them.
(3) Waymo and Uber will end up going to trial, and the court will render a mixed verdict. At some point, Paul Clement will sign an appellate brief for one of the parties.
It is January 5, and we seem to have checked the box on numbers 1 and 2.
Representatives in the Vermont General Assembly have introduced a bill that would establish a categorical ban on non-compete agreements, much in the mold of the North Dakota and California statutes. The proposed legislation contains the usual carve-outs for negotiated sale-of-business and partnership-style non-competes. A copy of the bill is available here. This may be the last we hear of it.
Move a stone's throw to the East, and a gaggle of New Hampshire senators have introduced Senate Bill 423, which would ban non-competes for low-wage workers. Similar to the Illinois Freedom to Work Act, the term "low-wage worker" includes those earning the greater of the federal minimum wage or $15 per hour. This is a common-sense reform that probably stands a decent chance of passage. The Senate Bill is available here.
The State of Ohio, and people with some connection to the Buckeye State, have produced some pretty terrible trade secrets and non-compete litigation. Which saddens me, because I went to Ohio State.
Well, the trend seems to continue with a company in the business of producing something called "precision braided textiles" filing what appears to be a really crappy suit against a former employee. A&P Technology sued a terminated Phil Lariviere on the theory of inevitable disclosure of trade secrets. Lariviere, a former engineer, sat out his broad, two-year non-compete before obtaining subsequent employment through a recruiter with one of A&P's competitors.
A&P then filed suit claiming that Lariviere's intimate knowledge of everything A&P placed its trade secrets at risk, as if time stood still during the two-plus years Lariviere was gone. The Southern District of Ohio mercifully denied this injunction against Lariviere, despite his relatively hostile attitude to his former employer. The injunction briefing contained some rather amusing exhibits about Lariviere's social media posts, texts, and e-mails. Why? A&P felt that anger and hostility suggested an intent to steal trade secrets.
No reason for this theory appears to be offered, and the court saw through it. According to Judge Black, "Lariviere's mockery of the former employer who terminated him and then sued him is not demonstrative of any actual effort or inclination to violate his contractual obligation to protect the confidentiality of A&P's trade secrets." Maybe this was an unfortunate choice, but I sympathize here with Lariviere. He should be pissed about getting sued on a specious claim after abiding by his non-compete.
An equally interesting aspect of the opinion concerns Lariviere's smart move to force A&P to identify its trade secrets with specificity. The shotgun nature of A&P's claim all but forced Lariviere's hand to proceed this way. And the court was persuaded, ordering A&P to list out its "suspected misappropriated trade secrets" before demanding the same of Lariviere and his new employer. The main impetus for the discovery ruling appears to have been the substantive weakness of A&P's case.
You can review the order and opinion at the end of this post. A further link is available here. It is well worth a read for lawyers and litigants, as the discussion spans a number of substantive and procedural topics likely to recur.
In the Waymo v. Uber litigation, the so-called Jacobs letter has received a great deal of attention. The letter was originally part of a dispute between Jacobs and Uber. But it has been interjected into the trade-secrets trial of the century, centered on the conduct of former engineer Anthony Levandowski. The most salacious part of the Jacobs letter was the allegation that former CEO Travis Kalanick had sanctioned trade secrets theft. To be sure, the Jacobs story will be a featured part of the upcoming trial. And to that end, Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the case, issued a recent Order unlike any I've ever seen.