Business litigation in Florida often involves claims for trade secret misappropriation under Florida’s Uniform Trade Secret Act (FUTSA) or the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA). For liability to attach under DTSA or FUTSA, the trade secret information must be the fruit of a wrongful acquisition or misappropriation. A common issue concerning trade secret claims is whether the alleged trade secret was wrongfully acquired through improper means. Actions may be “improper” for trade-secret purposes even if not independently unlawful. Compulife Software Inc. v. Newman, 959 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2020). Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale business litigation attorney, and represents clients in business litigation in Miami, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. The Mavrick Law Firm represents businesses and their owners in breach of contract litigation and related claims of fraud, non-compete agreement litigation, trade secret litigation, trademark infringement litigation, employment litigation, and other legal disputes in federal and state courts and in arbitration.
Misappropriation of a trade secret occurs “where a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means acquires the trade secret of another or where a person who has obtained the trade secret by improper means discloses or uses the trade secret of another without express or implied consent.” ACR Elecs., Inc. v. DME Corp., 2012 WL 13005955 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 31, 2012). The DTSA defines “misappropriation” to include “acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means” or “disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent” in specified circumstances. 18 U.S.C. § 1839(5). “Improper means” under DTSA includes “theft, bribery, misrepresentation, [and] breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy,” but excludes “reverse engineering, independent derivation, or any other lawful means of acquisition.” 18 U.S.C. § 1839(6). Meanwhile, the definition of “improper means” under FUTSA also includes “breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy.” Fla. Stat. § 688.002(1). While the general definitions of a trade secret are identical under FUTSA and DTSA, a court’s analysis under each statute is substantially equivalent. Compulife Software Inc. v. Newman, 959 F.3d 1288 (11th Cir. 2020).
Florida courts routinely find that trade secrets may be acquired through improper means when a business’ employee copies or extracts electronic information before their employment ends. For example, in Pharmerica, Inc. v. Arledge, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that the defendant “misappropriated those trade secrets by duplicating and copying them and/or sending them to his home computer or personal email account and deleting them from the [plaintiff’s] computers.” 2007 WL 865510 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 21, 2007). The Court considered the fact that the defendant “copied almost all of his electronic files from his work computer” just two days before he resigned from his position with his former employer. The trade secrets and proprietary information involved the former employer’s distribution and operational plans, quality control programs, and—most importantly—the former employer’s pricing details for major corporate clients that represented at one-third of the company’s total revenues.
In All Leisure Holidays Ltd. v. Novello, the United States District Court for the Southern District Court of Appeals granted, in part, plaintiff’s motion for a temporary injunction because the defendants “apparently requested and obtained [plaintiff’s] trade secrets without the express or complied consent of plaintiff.” 2012 WL 5932364 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 27, 2012). The heart of the matter involved the plaintiff’s customer list and customer information. Less than two months before leaving the plaintiffs’ company, the defendant (Novello) requested plaintiff’s confidential information from a third-party marketing firm (who was in privity with plaintiff and had access to the information). In his request via email, Novello stated:
Can you provide me with a data dump across all offices of all bookings, including cruise revenue, names of pax [passengers], address info, names of agent if any, including address info, booking dates, cruise name, locations, birthdates, emails, that we have in nvs…the raw data will be fine.
After further email exchanges, Novello received the confidential information described above through a file-sharing upload link provided by the third-party. The Novello Court ultimately found that defendant acquired the trade secrets by improper means and was prohibited from using trade secrets, even though he acquired the trade secrets during the course of employment.
Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale business litigation lawyer, and represents clients in Miami, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.