Peter A. Steinmeyer, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Chicago office, was quoted in Law360, in “5 Noncompete Rulings from 2019 Attorneys Should Know,” by Braden Campbell. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

In 2019, courts assuaged a key employer concern stemming from Massachusetts’ high-profile noncompete reform and gave no quarter to a worker in another case who pocketed employer information, even though it turned out his haul didn't qualify as trade secrets.

Here, Law360 looks at these and three other rulings on restrictive covenants from this year that employee mobility attorneys ought to be aware of. …

Creative Theft Defense Busted

The U.S. Department of Justice has taken aggressive steps lately to protect businesses’ intellectual property, which this year yielded one of the more interesting trade secrets theft rulings in recent memory, according to Peter Steinmeyer, trade secrets and employee mobility group co-leader at Epstein Becker Green.

The DOJ brought a criminal case against metallurgical engineer Robert O’Rourke after he downloaded nearly 2,000 documents from employer Dura-Bar days before jumping ship for Chinese cast iron maker Hualong. A jury handed down a mixed verdict, finding O’Rourke guilty of theft — even in connection with certain documents it did not consider to be trade secrets. ...

Steinmeyer said the case is notable because defendants in trade secrets cases often argue the information they’re accused of stealing wasn’t actually a trade secret.

“The court [in this case] is saying it doesn’t matter whether it qualifies or not. What matters is your intent,” Steinmeyer said.

Steinmeyer also said he enjoyed several “colorful” passages in the order, including one in which Judge Wood said, “One who intends to steal trade secrets with the goal of harming a company and enhancing a competitor does not receive a ‘get out of jail free card’” for taking something wrongly believed to be a trade secret. …

A Road Map for Protecting Trade Secrets

Some court decisions are important because they answer a novel legal question, advance a long-standing debate or apply a new law for the first time. Others, like a recent decision out of Illinois federal court, offer a useful crash course on established principles. …

The judge laid out several failures in a lengthy analysis, noting that Abrasic didn’t make people who knew about its information sign nondisclosure agreements or even tell them to keep the company's alleged secrets and that it barely limited access to the shared drive where it kept the data at issue. This invaluable decision details exactly what not to do to protect a trade secret, Steinmeyer said.

“For years to come, that’s going to be a decision that’s cited by litigators on both sides of these issues,” Steinmeyer said. …

Broker’s Career Update OK

An Indiana federal judge recently deepened a debate over whether and what securities dealers can tell clients following a move to a competing firm. …

Steinmeyer said the decision is notable because nonsolicitation disputes often turn on whether post-employment contact is meant to entice or inform clients.

“In this particular instance, the court held it was not an impermissible solicitation,” Steinmeyer said. “But again, the court emphasized the analysis depends on the context of each and every situation, so it was an interesting decision.”

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