Published on April 16, 2008
TRADE SECRETS: TRADE SECRETS Outline of Presentation: Outline of Presentation What are trade secrets Protecting trade secrets Trade secrets or patents Legal protection for trade secrets and remedies for their misappropriation Trade Secrets and Franchise: Trade Secrets and Franchise Intellectual property rights are inherent to a franchise. Without IP there can be no franchise IP Trademarks Designs Patents Copyright Trade Secret What are Trade Secrets: What are Trade Secrets Trade secrets are confidential information that has commercial value by virtue of being kept secret and reasonable steps have been taken to keep it secret. Economic Espionage Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. § 1839 (3)- definition of a trade secret: Economic Espionage Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. § 1839 (3)- definition of a trade secret “All forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, programmed 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.” Trade Secrets in a Franchise: Trade Secrets in a Franchise Financial, technical, structural, marketing, engineering, distribution techniques/documents, recipes, business formats and plans, operations manuals, and pricing techniques are all candidates for protection as trade secrets. Slide7: Camp Creek established and operated a Sheraton Inn franchise (the "Inn") close to the Atlanta airport. It had disclosed to Sheraton confidential information such as occupancy levels, average daily rates, discounting policies, rate levels, long-term contracts, marketing plans and operating expenses in a confidential context with the expectation that it would be kept confidential and used for limited purposes. Such information were closely guarded in the hotel industry. Thereafter, Sheraton purchased another hotel close by. The manager of the new hotel used the information described above to its advantage and to the detriment of Camp Creek. Held that the information qualified as trade secrets and were used in violation of the confidentiality agreement Naturalawn: Naturalawn An ex-franchisee of a lawn care franchise was found to have violated trade secret law by using the franchisor's carefully guarded customer lists and by using the franchisor’s specially designed computer software Increasing vulnerability of trade secrets: Increasing vulnerability of trade secrets In franchising the franchisor has to transfer all of the information relevant to the way of doing his business to the franchisee If a franchisor is not careful, its products and method of doing business can be copied by employees or franchisees who can use the information to start competing companies. Advances in technology - the speed and ease with which information can be moved has made businesses information more vulnerable to loss Employee mobility and shifting allegiance Trade secret protection: Trade secret protection First Step - identify potential trade secrets (Trade secret audit) Second Step - Take measures to protect them By identifying and protecting prevent their loss Difficult to prove to a court that the information is worthy of protection if steps had not been taken to identify and protect them in the first place Identify: Identify Prepare list of information that you think needs to be kept secret Technical and scientific information Financial, legal and HR information Commercial information Note date of creation, place of storage/use and other key information Technical and Scientific Information: Technical and Scientific Information product information technical composition of a product (medicine, paint, recipe for a sauce), data about product performance, product design information manufacture information manufacturing methods and processes (weaving technique, device process), production costs, refinery processes, raw materials, machinery know-how necessary to perform a particular operation Financial, Legal and HR Information: Financial, Legal and HR Information Pricing information Salary and compensation plans Employee evaluation Commercial Information: Commercial Information marketing strategy/research customer buying preferences and requirements consumer profiles sales methods Information protected in decided cases: Information protected in decided cases Access card control information Project information Pricing information/sales forecasts Financial information Computer source code Test material/ prototypes/ design specifications Customer business info Engineering plans and drawings Formulas Research Blueprints/diagrams Software Implementation methodology Technical records Biomedical research Sales forecasts Slide16: Franchisor must identify the trade secrets that exist within his business as a prerequisite for protecting them Franchisor must identify the trade secrets licensed to a franchisee so that he is informed and takes the appropriate steps to protect them Provisions in the Franchise Agreement: Provisions in the Franchise Agreement Franchisee acknowledges that the franchisor is the owner of all proprietary rights in and to the system and manual(s) and any changes or supplements to the manual(s); franchisee acknowledges that all of the information contained in the manual(s) is proprietary and confidential and franchisee shall use all reasonable efforts to maintain such information as confidential. Franchisee acknowledges, knows, and agrees that designated portions of the manuals are trade secrets known and treated as such by the franchisor. Protection: Protection HR policy Information is usually lost from within a company Security procedures for paper documents, tangible material and for electronic information Human Resource Policy – employees and franchisees: Human Resource Policy – employees and franchisees Awareness creation/strong enforcement of breaches Information week survey only 9% of companies educate their employees on data security Should be part of training provided to the franchisee Confidential agreements/clauses Similar expectations vis-à-vis franchisee and its employees Staff manual Operational manual of the franchise Human Resource Policy –Ex employees: Human Resource Policy –Ex employees Exit interviews Non compete agreements Such agreements are enforceable where it is considered reasonable as to time, scope and geographical limitation necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the employer (or Franchisor); where they are not harmful to the public, and where they do not impose undue hardship on the employee (or franchisee) Gold Messenger: Gold Messenger Plaintiff franchised his system for setting up and operating an advertising circular business to the Defendant. The franchisee received the Operations and Procedures Manual detailing how to set up and operate a GM franchise. The agreement included a covenant not to compete (at termination, franchisee may not compete with GM for three years and within 50 miles of GM franchise territories). After the franchisee failed to pay royalties, plaintiff terminated the agreement. Thereafter the Defendant began publishing a competing circular called "Penny Power." Held that the defendant could not use the confidential information contained in the manual to compete unfairly with the franchisor Servpro: Servpro Franchise involved a cleaning company. A non-competition clause in the agreement prevented an ex-franchisee from competing in the same kind of business covered by the franchise agreement for two years after termination within a ten mile radius of the area in which the franchisee rendered services. The clause was not enforced because there was no evidence of misuse of confidential business. The ex-franchisee operated a competing business within the 10-mile radius but there was no evidence that any of the franchisor’s manuals, techniques or training manuals were used. Naturalawn: Naturalawn After the termination of a franchise agreement for lawn care the ex-franchisee was prevented from running a competing business in the same area Duty of Confidentiality: Duty of Confidentiality Explicit contract Implicit contract Even in the absence of a confidentiality agreement or clause duty of confidentiality may be implied. Fiduciary duty Practice in the trade Employees stock of knowledge or employers confidential information: Employees stock of knowledge or employers confidential information Difficult question of fact as to whether the information that has been used to the detriment of the employer is information of the employer or honestly acquired during employment by the employee Faccenda v Fowler: Faccenda v Fowler Mr. Fowler left Faccenda where he had worked for 8 years and set up his own business of delivering and selling fresh chicken He took with him customer lists and their requirements, delivery routes and pricing information This information was held not to be sufficiently confidential Bingham Hill. v Morning Fresh : Bingham Hill. v Morning Fresh Bingham Hill was awarded $550,000 in damages for their stolen trade secrets. Morning Fresh had hired the former cheese maker at Bingham Hill who had signed an agreement while at Bingham Hill stating he would not disclose their recipes or make their cheeses elsewhere. He violated this agreement by not only disclosing their trade secrets but by using them to make duplicate cheeses at Morning Fresh. Internal security: Internal security Documents under lock and key Password protection in computers Disclosure on a “need to know”basis Confidential documents marked “confidential” Registration at reception/visitor logs/escorts Use “keep out” “authorized personnel only”signs Access controlled photocopiers, scanners, computers. Use of shredders Nothing on the internet “Confidential”: “Confidential” “This document contains confidential and proprietary information of [COMPANY] and is protected by copyright, trade secret and other national laws. Its receipt or possession does not convey any rights to reproduce, disclose its contents, or to manufacture, use or sell anything it may describe. Reproduction, disclosure, or use without specific written authorization of [COMPANY] is strictly forbidden” Case Study – old country buffet: Case Study – old country buffet OCB popular chain of buffet restaurants. Good food, décor, service and had solved a variety of problems in running a buffet (food spoilage, wastage, cost cutting) Klinke got access to OCB’s manuals and recipes, copied them and replicated them in his competing buffet business Held that OCB had not taken precautions to protect their recipes or their manuals and as such could not be protected as trade secrets Confidentiality Provisions in the Franchise Agreement: The trade secrets must be accorded maximum security consistent with franchisee’s need to make frequent reference to them; franchisees shall strictly limit access to the manuals to employees who have a demonstrable and valid “need to know” the information contained therein in order to perform their position and strictly follow any provisions in the manuals regarding the care, storage, and use of the manuals and all related proprietary information; the franchisor should reserve the right to designate which employees of the franchisee shall execute confidentiality agreements, in a form provided by the franchisor. Confidentiality Provisions in the Franchise Agreement Confidentiality Provisions in the Franchise Agreement: Franchisee shall not at any time, without franchisor’s prior written consent, copy, duplicate, record, or otherwise reproduce in any manner any part of the manuals, updates, supplements, or related materials, in whole or in part, or otherwise make the same available to any unauthorized person. The manuals at all times remain the sole property of franchisor; upon the expiration or termination, for any reason, of the franchise agreement, franchisee shall return to franchisor the manuals and all supplements thereto. Confidentiality Provisions in the Franchise Agreement Secret Recipes: Secret Recipes Kentucky fried chicken The secret recipe of “11 herbs and spices” lies in a bank vault. Few people know it, and they are contractually obligated to secrecy. The ingredients are mixed by two different companies in two different locations and then combined elsewhere in a third, separate location. To mix the final formula, a computer processing system is used to blend the mixtures together and ensure that no one outside KFC has the complete recipe Other Measures: Other Measures Carefully review advertising and promotional materials and press releases to protect trade secrets Monitor trade press and business journals for any news indicating a possible compromise and/or exploitation of your trade secrets by others. Police the activities of suppliers, franchisees, etc Include post-term obligations in employment agreements that impose a duty on the employees to keep his or her former employer aware of his or her whereabouts Patent or Trade Secret Protection: Patent or Trade Secret Protection Such information may qualify for patent protection or trade secret protection. A company may choose trade secret protection even for information that qualify for patent protection. Trade Secrets or Patents: Trade Secrets or Patents No registration (costs/time factor) Duration is not limited to specified period of time No disclosure Wider information Difficult to enforce No protection against independent discovery or RE Registration required (cost/time factor) Limited duration Disclosure required Limited to claims Easier to enforce Exclusive rights Making the Choice : Making the Choice Trade secret better Short commercial life In-house development Cost Modifications may not be patentable Patent better Easily reverse engineered Outsourcing Cost Modifications patentable Protection for Trade Secrets : Protection for Trade Secrets Often no specific law Where there is a contract; employees with express provisions in their contracts or an implied duty of confidentiality or those who have signed NDA or CA Where there is no contract; information imparted in confidence and used in breach of that confidence or information obtained by unlawful or improper means (theft, industrial espionage, bribery) Remedies: Remedies Civil remedies based on breach of contract or tort law; damages, injunctions, seizures and impoundment Criminal remedies - rarely a criminal offense in its own right but could attract criminal liability by committing criminal offenses for procuring the information (theft, trespass etc) Ten Ways to Protect a Franchise's Trade Secrets - Thomas Oppold: Ten Ways to Protect a Franchise's Trade Secrets - Thomas Oppold No. 1: Define the franchisor's trade secrets broadly in the franchise agreement, for example -- "As used herein, the term Trade Secrets mean, any information, including, but not limited to, any manuals, contracts, customer data, supplier data, financial data, price lists, know-how, methods, techniques, processes, compilations, formulas, programs or patterns relating to the operation of the franchise and the products or services thereof." No. 2: Specifically state in the agreement that any items embodying the franchisor's trade secrets are being licensed to the franchisee as opposed to being sold. No. 3: Specifically state in the agreement that the franchisee is prohibited from "reverse engineering," decompiling or disassembling any items embodying the trade secrets. No. 4: Require the franchisee to acknowledge that he is not violating any restrictions of former employees or other previously-owned franchises and that he or she will not disclose or use any trade secrets of any former employers or other previously-owned franchises in the operation of the present franchise. No. 5: Stress the importance of maintaining secrecy of the system's trade secrets and specifically include a statement in the agreement wherein the franchisee acknowledges that he may have access to the franchisor's trade secrets and that these trade secrets have substantial value that provide the franchisee with a competitive advantage. Slide41: No. 6: Include specific provisions in the agreement that restrict unauthorized use and disclosure of the system's trade secrets and prohibit the franchisee from delivering any papers, or publishing any articles pertaining to the franchise or its activities until they are first reviewed and approved by the franchisor. No. 7: Include specific provisions in the agreement in the event of termination, including: requiring the immediate return of any of the franchisor's trade secret information and any items embodying those trade secrets; requiring acknowledgment that he has no ownership interest in the trade secrets or any items embodying the trade secrets. No. 8: Include specific guidelines in the operating manuals for protecting the secrecy of the franchisor's trade secrets, including: limiting access to the trade secrets to only those franchise employees that have a need-to-know for the performance of their duties; requiring locking of all offices, file cabinets or storage rooms in which confidential information may be found; providing appropriate legending and treatment of all trade secrets; limiting access to copying and scanning equipment and computers; and password-protecting all computers and encrypting all electronic communications containing references to the trade secrets. No. 9: Require the franchisee to have every employee who may have access to the franchisor's trade secrets execute an employment agreement having non-disclosure provisions, restrictive covenants, and notice requirements of subsequent employment. No. 10: Require the franchisee to conduct periodic meetings with the franchise employees to instruct them as to their responsibilities to maintain secrecy of the franchisor's trade secrets. The franchisee should also conduct severance interviews with any terminating employees in which they acknowledge in writing their post employment obligations to the franchise.