Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A New Trade Secrets Survey of In-House Counsel

It feels like all trade secrets all the time these days, but the hits keep coming. I've got some patent scholarship queued up, but this new survey caught my eye. David Almeling and Darin Snyder have provided some quality empirical analysis of trade secret cases in the past. Their two articles (written with others) cover both state and federal courts, and provided solid empirical support for the proposition that most trade secret cases involve ex-employees rather than strangers.

They have now extended this work with a new study (co-authored with Carolyn Appel) that surveys in-house counsel about trade secret usage.  The study is here, though it is behind the Law360 paywall, which is unfortunate. It is available on Lexis, I believe, or through a free preview.

The authors surveyed 81 in-house counsel from a variety of industries; however, they acknowledge that their sample is self-selected, which means that those who care most about trade secrets may have answered. They did overyield (another 27 people were not such in-house counsel), which lends some support for the idea that answers were not simply driven by those who cared the most. On the other hand, most respondents worked for large, multi-state companies, which makes one wonder why more in-house counsel for smaller companies did not participate and whether their answers would be any different.

In my prior post on the DTSA and in the Evil Twin debate, I ask why there is a sudden push for the DTSA. This survey gives us some answers about the political economy - 75% of respondents said that trade secrets had grown more at risk in the last ten years, and 50% said they were at much more risk. This fear may or may not be well grounded, but if this is the perception, it will certainly drive policy. Relatedly, respondents reported that patent law changes were not driving use of trade secrets -- only 30% reported using trade secrets instead of patenting. Most, I suspect, want more of both.

A whopping 70% reported that their company had been a victim of trade secret misappropriation. Of those, employees or ex-employees were the perceived culprits 90% of the time, confirming (again) that most misappropriation is not stranger misappropriation.

The most surprising finding of the survey, in my view, was a question about whether the DTSA should preempt the UTSA. Non-preemption allows both to stand, which can not only create conflict, but also allows plaintiffs to choose the most favorable law. In my discussions with people after the debate, some thought non-preemption was the part of the DTSA that most showed a desire to expand trade secret's reach.

So, the surprising result was a nearly even three-way split between supporting preemption, opposing preemption, and not caring one way or the other. While academics seem to think that lack of preemption is a big deal, this self-selected group of in-house counsel seem to not care one way or the other. This finding could actually drive policy choices in the future.

I'll conclude with that brief recap - while the article is short, there is more to see, about the types of secrets, the role in innovation, and the cost of misappropriation. I will end on this note, however: the costs borne by most companies from misappropriation were investigation and litigation. This is to be expected, as everyone investigates and litigation costs are high. But the other costs of misappropriation were spread out among price erosion, loss of sales, increased costs of protection (my own personal theory), and even none. I think this shows two things. First, when messaging in this area is not consistent, it may be that companies are perceiving the problem in their own ways. Second, it may be that enforcement efforts wind up dwarfing the actual harm of misappropriation in some cases.

No comments:

Post a Comment