An Injunction in a Theft-of-Trade-Secrets Case Cannot Prohibit a Party From Using Publicly Available Information

downloadCompanies suing for trade secrets theft often want not just the monetary compensation for the stolen trade secrets, but also a court order – an injunction – prohibiting the other side from using the stolen information.  

In order to be enforceable, however, under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, an injunction must be “in clear, specific and unambiguous terms” so that the party enjoined can understand the duties and obligations imposed by the injunction and so that the court can determine whether the injunction has been violated.  Additionally, an injunction cannot prohibit a defendant from doing something he has a legal right to do, e.g., use publicly available information along with the trade secret information. Thus, a court order prohibiting a defendant from using trade secrets must be broad enough to cover all possible circumstances while narrow enough to include only the illegal activities.   This is easier said than done.

In a recent case, the Houston Court of Appeals reversed a permanent injunction order which could be read to cover both – the trade secret data and publicly available information.  In TMRJ Holdings, Inc. v. Inhance Techs., LLC, the injunction at issue prohibited defendant from:

(1) “using, disclosing, transferring, or possessing, in whole or in part, [plaintiff’s] trade secret information,” which was defined as “compilation of specified data” for various plaintiff’s processes; and

(2) “operating, manufacturing, designing, transferring, selling, or offering for sale” certain processes that “contain, are based on, or utilize, in whole or in part, [plaintiff’s] trade secrets.” 

The Court concluded that the injunction was not specific enough because failure to define “specified data” and the general description of “trade secrets” did not give adequate notice of the prohibited conduct to defendant.  Specifically, the injunction did not distinguish between the unique, protected elements of plaintiff’s data compilations, processes, or equipment from that which plaintiff’s competitors use throughout the industry.  As the result, the Court reversed the permanent injunction in this case and remanded it to the trial court to consider in light of its opinion. 

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_VectorGraphicCONCLUSION:  In trade secrets theft cases, in addition to proving the elements of an injunction, plaintiffs must also make sure the injunction order’s language is specific enough, without giving away the trade secrets information, to provide defendant with a clear notice of what it can and cannot do.

Leiza Dolghih is a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP in Dallas, Texas and a Co-Chair of the firm’s Trade Secrets and Non-Compete Disputes national practice Her practice includes commercial, intellectual property and employment litigation.  You can contact her directly at Leiza.Dolghih@LewisBrisbois.com or (214) 722-7108 or fill out the form below.

When Stopping Competition with A Temporary Injunction, It Pays To Be Precise

ArcherEven the best non-disclosure and non-competition agreements are not worth anything if not enforced correctly. A lot of times a company rushes to court asking the judge to stop a former employee or his new employer from using the company’s confidential information or soliciting its customers based on the agreements that the former employee had signed with the company.    

However, in an attempt to obtain quick relief at the courthouse, companies often end up using formulaic and boiler-plate language that is supposed to cover every possible violation such as: 

  • Plaintiff asks the Court to prohibit Defendant from soliciting or conducting business with Plaintiff’s customers or
  • Plaintiff asks the Court to restrain Defendant from using the company’s confidential information or trade secrets 

Such requests, while appearing very reasonable at first blush, are often rejected by the courts as not being specific enough to let defendants know what they can and cannot do. For example, how is the defendant supposed to know who the company’s customers are, especially, if there are thousands of them? Or, if the order does not define trade secrets, how can the defendant know what is it that he is prohibited from using or disclosing? 

Defining the restrictions on competition in a precise manner while covering all possible violations is key to a successful injunction; however, the required degree of specificity may very from court to court. For example, recently, a court of appeals in Super Starr Int’l, LLC, et al v. Fresh Tex Produce, LLC, et al., dissolved an injunction issued by the trial court and remanded (sent) the case back to the trial court instructing it to reissue the temporary injunction order that defines “soliciting” not to include mass advertising, as well as redraft restrictions by defining “customers,” “accounts,” “trade secrets” and “confidential information.” 

BOTTOM LINE: When seeking a temporary injunction in a case involving unfair competition, non-compete or non-disclosure agreement breaches, shooting for the moon so you can land on the stars is not a good approach.  Rather, the party seeking an injunction should aim as closely as possible at the particular star on which it wants to land.   

Leiza litigates non-compete and trade secrets lawsuits in a variety of industries in federal and state courts. For a consultation regarding a dispute involving a noncompete agreement or misappropriation of trade secrets, contact Leiza at Leiza.Dolghih@lewisbrisbois.com or (214) 722-7108 or fill out the form below.