Damages for misappropriation of trade secrets are generally understood as (1) lost profits, (2) defendant’s profits, or (3) a reasonable royalty. These are damages traditionally sought against a competitor. But that does not mean that a departing employee who takes trade secrets to a competitor is immune from a damage award.
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Over the course of several cases, Judge Mazzant from the Eastern District of Texas has emphasized the circumstantial nature of the evidence used to establish misappropriation of trade secrets. SPBS, Inc. v. Mobley, No. 4:18-CV-00391, 2018 WL 4185522, (E.D. Tex. Aug. 31, 2018) is a good example of the court relying on such circumstantial evidence to issue an injunction against a former employee accused of taking trade secrets.

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One of the most difficult things in prosecuting a trade secret case is determining how to define the trade secrets that have been misappropriated. If a plaintiff defines the trade secrets too narrowly, it runs the risk of failing to stop the misappropriation. However, if a plaintiff uses a definition of trade secrets that is based on broad or generic terms, then the plaintiff runs the risk that its requested injunctive relief will be denied.
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The Texas Uniform Trade Secret Act (TUTSA) allows for injunctive relief based on both “actual” and “threatened” disclosure of trade secrets. One the major unresolved issues of TUTSA, though, is the meaning of “threatened” disclosure. The Eastern District of Texas briefly addresses this meaning in AHS Staffing, LLC v. Quest Staffing Grp., Inc., No. 4:18-CV-00402, 2018 WL 3870067 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 15, 2018).
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In Thoroughbred Ventures, LLC v. Disman, No. 4:18-CV-00318, 2018 WL 3752852 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 8, 2018), plaintiff Thoroughbred Ventures sued its former manager Disman, alleging that Disman breached his employment agreement, which provided that all client contact and background information belonged to Thoroughbred and constituted “Confidential Information” and a trade secret of Thoroughbred.
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Eagle Oil & Gas Co. v. Shale Exploration, LLC, 549 S.W.3d 256 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2018, pet., pet. dismissed) involves the familiar situation where a plaintiff sues for both breach of a confidentiality agreement and for misappropriation of trade secrets. Defendant asserted that plaintiff was limited to a breach of contract claim because the misappropriation claim was barred by the economic loss rule, which bars a recovery in tort for economic losses caused by a breach of contract if the losses are due to the failure to fulfill a contractual obligation.
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When the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA) was enacted, it removed trade secret theft as a possible basis for asserting a Texas Theft Liability Act (TTLA) claim. One of the biggest impacts of this change was the recovery of attorneys’ fees for trade secrets cases. Under the TTLA, attorneys’ fees were available to prevailing parties. Under TUTSA, attorney’ fees were only available to a prevailing party if (1) the claim for misappropriation was made in bad faith; (2) a motion to terminate an injunction is made or resisted in bad faith; or (3) willful and malicious misappropriation exists. Thus, with the enactment of TUTSA, attorneys’ fees became much more difficult to recover.

Importantly, though, litigants must remember that the TTLA still applies to misappropriations that took place before TUTSA’s September 1, 2013 enactment date. The Fifth Circuit case of Automation Support, Inc. v. Humble Design, LLC, No. 17-10433, 2018 WL 1474937 (5th Cir. Mar. 26, 2018) provides a good reminder of this.
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When a business severs ties with one of its affiliates, it can be difficult to retrieve and erase all the trade secret information provided to the affiliate. That problem was on display in the franchise context in Stockade Companies, LLC v. Kelly Restaurant Group., LLC, No. 1:17-CV-143-RP, 2017 WL 4640443 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 16, 2017), which involved a franchisor accusing its former franchisee of misappropriating its “buffet system” in its restaurants.
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Generally, there are three primary types of damages of damages in a trade secrets case: (1) lost profits, (2) defendant’s profits, and (3) a reasonable royalty. The Federal Circuit in Texas Advanced Optoelectronic Sols., Inc. v. Renesas Elecs. Am., Inc., No. 2016-2121, 2018 WL 2011463 (Fed. Cir. May 1, 2018) explores who—the judge or the jury—can award defendant’s profits.
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