Trade secrets protect the things that make a business unique, and trade secrets themselves are protected by both federal and state laws. California trade secret lawyers are often asked, “What is the Defend Trade Secrets Act?” The Defend Trade Secrets Act is a federal law that applies to any trade secrets related to products or services used in interstate commerce. The statute also applies to trade secrets used internationally. It is an important tool for anyone who needs to take legal action to protect their confidential or proprietary information.
To learn more about the Defend Trade Secrets Act, keep reading this blog.
Federal Law Protects Businesses Against Trade Secret Misappropriation
The federal Defend Trade Secrets Act was passed by the United States Congress and codified into law in 2016. The statute is an important tool in intellectual property claims, particularly for business owners who believe that an ex-employee or business competitor has used their trade secrets without authorization or permission. The idea behind the Defend Trade Secrets Act is that trade secret owners should have a way to safeguard their trade secrets against theft or misappropriation. For example, the Defend Trade Secrets Act makes it unlawful for an ex-employee to solicit their former employer’s customers.
Importantly, the Defend Trade Secrets Act does not preempt state laws. For example, a victim of trade secret theft in California may choose to file a lawsuit under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA). An experienced intellectual property lawyer can help you decide which statute and venue will be most favorable to your case.
What Is the Definition of “Trade Secret Misappropriation”?
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a “trade secret” as any information that has independent economic value because it is not generally known, has value to others who do not have access to the information, and is subject to efforts to maintain its secrecy.
Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, protected information can include “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.” The DTSA’s broad definition of “trade secret” gives businesses wide latitude when seeking legal protection for their proprietary information. For California business owners, it can sometimes be advantageous to file suit in federal court under the DTSA instead of suing in state court under the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA).
How Do You Establish a Violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act?
Certain acts can give rise to a legal claim under the Defend Trade Secrets Act. These acts of misappropriation include the following:
- Acquisition of a trade secret through improper means.
- Disclosure of a trade secret by someone who used improper means to acquire the information.
- Disclosure of a trade secret by someone who had reason to know that the information was acquired improperly.
- Disclosure of a trade secret by someone who knew that the information had been acquired by accident or mistake.
If you believe that someone is using your trade secrets without authorization, the experienced Los Angeles trade secret attorneys at Tauler Smith LLP can assist you. Our California intellectual property team will evaluate the facts of your case and help you determine whether your legal claim should be filed under federal law or state law.
What Remedies Are Available to Plaintiffs in DTSA Cases?
One unique remedy available to plaintiffs in DTSA cases is civil seizure. This allows the court to order the seizure of property to prevent the dissemination of the trade secret at issue in the case. Moreover, this order may be issued prior to a resolution in the case, which means that courts can act quickly to stop a potential infringement of trade secrets while the matter is still being adjudicated. Civil seizure is only supposed to be an option for plaintiffs in “extraordinary circumstances.”
Additionally, the most common trade secret remedies available to plaintiffs in DTSA cases include the following:
- Actual damages to compensate the plaintiff for trade secret misappropriation that has already occurred.
- Exemplary or punitive damages if the trade secret was “willfully and maliciously misappropriated.”
- An injunction to protect the trade secret.
- Payment of a royalty to the plaintiff when future use of the trade secret is inevitable.
- Attorney’s fees.
Trademark & Patent Claims
Additionally, trade secret claims filed under the Defend Trade Secrets Act may be accompanied by trademark infringement claims and patent infringement claims on related matters and/or IP assets. These other legal claims can provide plaintiffs in trade secret cases with additional remedies.
The Economic Espionage Act of 1996
The Defend Trade Secrets Act is a companion to the Economic Espionage Act, which imposes criminal penalties against individuals who reveal trade secrets to foreign entities, such as a foreign government, business, or agent. When someone commits trade secret theft in violation of the Economic Espionage Act, they may be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
DTSA Exception for Whistleblowers
Congress made sure to carve out an exception for certain whistleblowers who reveal trade secrets to the government. That’s why the Defend Trade Secrets Act provides corporate whistleblowers with legal protection in the form of legal immunity from criminal prosecution. Whistleblowers are also immune from civil liability under either federal or state laws, if they meet certain conditions such as disclosing the trade secret to a government official.
Importantly, the Defend Trade Secrets Act also requires companies to let their employees know about these whistleblower immunity provisions. If a company fails to inform employees through employment manuals, policies, or contracts, then the company may no longer be eligible to pursue punitive damages and attorney’s fees if there is a DTSA lawsuit at a later date.
Contact the California Trade Secret Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
Tauler Smith LLP is a California law firm that helps business owners and individuals protect their intellectual property rights, including trade secrets. Our Los Angeles trade secret lawyers routinely represent both plaintiffs and defendants in U.S. District Court, and we know what it takes to win these cases. Contact us today by calling 310-590-3927 or sending an email.