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A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of receiving a number of questions concerning trade secrets from Sara A’Attar. Sara is an advanced law student in Paris. She has a Master’s Degree in International Law and Legal studies from the University of Paris and is completing her Master’s Degree in IP Law at the Universite Paris-Est Creteil (UPEC).

AS AN IP INVESTIGATIONS SPECIALIST, WHAT ARE THE DEPARTMENTS THAT YOU DEAL WITH THE MOST?

I primarily deal with general counsel’ of companies, private IP attorneys representing brands, and often with law enforcement when we have developed a case enough that we believe they would want to follow up on and the client wants to take that step.

IS THERE A PRECISE DEFINITION OF TRADE SECRETS?

There are lengthy legal definitions of trade secrets but to use an excerpt of a definition used at the start of a book titled, “Trade Secrets Asset Management 2016,” by IP Attorney and trade secrets protection expert R. Mark Halligan he says, “A trade secret is information that is valuable for being not generally known in the trade and the information holder takes reasonable measures to keep secret.”

DO YOU CONSIDER THAT THERE IS A HIGH PROTECTION OF TRADE SECRETS IN THE USA?

In my opinion, no. The problem begins with companies not accounting for and managing their trade secrets. But even for those companies that actually know what trade secrets they are trying to protect, there are so many ways for the secrets to be lost either intentionally or unintentionally.

Unintentional examples include employees that just talk too much; companies that permit visitors into research and development (R&D) areas of their facility without regard for what the visitors will observe or take and pass onto others.

Or, of course, bad actors that intentionally infiltrate a company to steal. One of the challenges is that companies often need to recruit from other countries (such as China) to get the highly educated and skilled employees needed to advance their R&D, and it’s difficult for the recruiting company to know what the skilled employees’ true intentions are.

DO YOU THINK TRADE SECRETS MORE DIFFICULT TO PROTECT THAN A PATENT, COPYRIGHT OR TRADEMARK?

Well, the upside in the protection of patents, copyright, and trademarks, of course, is that they can all be registered. But as we know, copyright piracy, trademark counterfeiting, and patent misappropriation and trolling is still a huge global problem.

The challenge in protecting trade secrets is that it has to be kept secret, and that, at the most basic level, is very difficult to do. It’s like trying to control a dam leak. You close it up here, and it leaks there.

IS THER ANY REAL CYBERSECURITY FOR TRADE SECRET PROTECTION?

Cybersecurity trade secrets protection has improved with many companies—certainly in the case of large corporations—which have implemented internal monitoring systems to identify employees that transfer data from their work computers to their personal computers.

But trade secrets thieves are always thinking of how they can circumvent a company’s internal monitoring system. In a couple of recent cases, I wrote about on my blog, bad actors simply pulled the trade secrets data up on their computer screens and instead of transferring it to another computer they took photographs of the screens (typically with an iPhone.)

DO YOU THINK MOST COMPANIES IN THE U.S. HAVE TAKEN REASONABLE STEPS TO KEEP THEIR INFORMATION SECRET?

No, I don’t.

The concept of protecting trade secrets is still relatively new to American businesses. Often, they don’t know what they should be protecting, and when they do, they don’t take reasonable steps to protect the secrets until some are stolen.

It reminds me a bit of the theft of fine art pieces from museums when I was the Art Liaison for the NYPD. Often, the museums didn’t have an accurate accounting of their pieces in storage, so, and when a piece was stolen they wouldn’t learn of it until the piece(s) showed-up on the marketplace.

Similarly, with trade secrets, often a company doesn’t know their secrets have been stolen until they learn another company is actively using their secrets to advance their own business interests.

But even for large corporations that have vigorously implemented programs to protect their trade secrets, they sometimes let their guard down in other situations such as when they are eager to merge with some other company, and later find out the other company used their trade secrets without their knowledge and outside of their agreement.

WHAT IS THE ADVICE GIVEN COMPANIES IN ORDER TO PROTECT THEIR INFORMATION–TO AVOID TRADE SECRET THEFT?

  • First, determine what trade secrets they want to protect
  • Implement protection policies and systems to do just that
  • Identify your trade secrets and establish policies to manage them
  • Conduct enhanced screening of prospective employees who will be working on your most important projects
  • Establish a vigorous physical protection protocol for the facility itself–Who comes and goes from the facility must be strictly accounted for and what they carry in and out of the facility ideally should be monitored as well, (i.e., no iPhones or other recording devices are permitted into the secure R&D areas)
  • Establish an internal computer monitoring system.
  • Implement a strategic CCTV system that can capture bad actors that are going to attempt to circumvent the internal computer monitoring system
  • Develop a company culture that understands what trade secrets are and why they must be protected–what I call “Trade Secrets Protection Mindfulness”

IN YOUR OPINION, DID THE “DEFEND TRADE SECRETS ACT OF 2016” BRING MORE PROTECTION THAN BEFORE?

Yes, absolutely.

Here is an excerpt from one U.S. IP attorney which I agree with, “Before the DTSA was enacted, trade secret owners were limited to civil action under state law, which varies significantly from state to state, and which provides inadequate protection against trade secret misappropriation spanning multiple jurisdictions.  Additionally, the federally enacted Economic Espionage Act of 1996 only provides for criminal penalties for trade secret theft.

“Therefore, one of the most important features of the DTSA is that it allows private companies to pursue a new civil cause of action under federal law to remedy trade secret misappropriation, providing trade secret owners the option to seek remedies in either federal or state court.  As a result, the DTSA has strengthened the protections provided to a company’s trade secrets by supplementing already existing remedies under state and federal law.”

IS THE PROTECTION OF TRADE SECRETS A REAL THREAT TO FREE SPEECH IN THE USA?

Excellent question. In my opinion, no.

Creations of the mind need to be protected. Persons and institutions that spend years to learn and/or research at considerable expense in time and money or both, deserve to benefit from their hard work.

Others should not be permitted to immediately acquire and share the fruits of their labors, otherwise, it will destroy the incentive to create.

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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In my February 28, 2019 post titled, “Have You Noticed How Trade Secrets Thieves are Circumventing Their Employer’s Computer Monitoring System…Lately? I highlighted the recent indictments of two highly skilled, Ph.D. Coca-Cola employees for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

Beyond raising the issue of how alleged trade secrets thieves are circumventing their employer’s internal computer monitoring program–by simply pulling  proprietary data up onto their screens and taking photographs of their computer screen–(typically with an iPhone)–what also got my attention in the criminal complaint (filed February 12, 2019), was the U.S. prosecutor’s specific mention of China’s Thousand Talents Program.

WHAT IS THE THOUSAND TALENTS PROGRAM?

There’s a fair amount of information on the internet about the program, but this is briiefly what Wikipedia has to say:

“The Thousand Talents Plan or Thousand Talents Program was established in 2008 by the central government of China to recognize and recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The program was further elevated in 2010 to become the top-level award given through China’s National Talent Development Plan…

“1000 Talent Plan professorships is the highest academic honor awarded by the State Council,…

“The program has been praised for recruiting top international talent in China, but also criticized for being ineffective at retaining the talent.

“An unclassified U.S. National Intelligence Council analysis highlights that the program threatens the U.S.’s economic base by enabling technology transfer to China.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE COCA-COLA CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

10. The Chinese government sponsored a program entitled, “The Thousand Talents.” This program was designed to induce individuals with advance technical education, training, and experience residing in Western countries to return or move to China and use their expertise to promote China’s economic and technological development. The Thousand Talents application process was competitive, an those who were selected sometimes received an annual payment from the Chinese government calculated as a percentage of the applicant’s current salary.”

11.  Various provincial Chinese governments had award programs similar to the national Thousand Talent Program. The provincial government for Shandong Province sponsored a program entitled, “Yishi-Yiyi.” Like the Thousand Talents Program, Yishi-Yiyi paid a monetary award to successful applicants with proposals to bring technology to the province.

23.  …China Company #1 agreed to sponsor (accused #1] to China’s Thousand Talent Program so that (accused #2] and China Company #1 could be paid by the Chinese government for their plan to develop technology that they knew to be based upon stolen [Coca-Cola] TSI [Trade Secrets Information.]

24. …[accused #2] caused China Company #1 to agree to sponsor [accused #1’s] application to China’s Yishi-Yiyi project so that [accused #2] and the China Company #1 could be paid by the Chinese government to develop technology that [accused #1] , [accused #2], and Co-Conspirator #1 knew to be derived from stolen [Coca-Cola] TSI.

SO…HERE IS THE QUESTION?

Does the Chinese government or the administrators of the “One Thousand Talents” or “Yishi-Yiyi” programs, respectively, care how rewards-candidates acquired their research?

The answer is painfully obvious.

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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It was widely reported a few days ago that a pharmacy professor at the University of Missouri allegedly stole his gifted student’s research, sold it to a pharmaceutical company, and did not credit his student or the university with having made the discovery.

The alleged misappropriation of the student’s research took place sometime between 2008 and 2010.

Here’s one quote from a New York Times article titled, Former Missouri Professor Stole Student’s Research to Sell New Drug, Lawsuit Alleges: “The lawsuit said that Dr. Mitra and Mrs. Mitra [the professor and his wife] … or people responding to their orders, removed or destroyed Dr. Cholkar’s [the graduate student’s] laboratory notebooks that he used to document the experiments…

BLOCKCHAIN PROTECTION

If blockchain – a.k.a distributed ledger technology (DLT) – had been better known (DLT only started to gain traction with its use for cryptocurrency in 2009) this alleged theft may not have occurred.

The graduate student would have uploaded the research contained in his notebooks into a blockchain, and the professor would have been hardpressed to comfortably use it without the student and university’s permission.

ANOTHER OPINION

I emailed the CEO of Vaultitude, Dominik Thor, and asked for his comments about this reported lawsuit and here’s what he had to say:

“Indeed, this could have been prevented. Blockchain technology allows for the immutable documentation of intellectual property in a transparent and secure manner. Once registered (aka uploaded to the Blockchain), the data is safe from tampering while the owner can provide clear proof of its existence due to a so-called timestamp.”

Vaultitude is a browser-based application that uses Blockchain technology to optimally protect and manage intellectual property (IP).

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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In an effort to circumvent their employer’s computer network monitoring system, trade secrets thieves sometimes–simply–pull up the proprietary information onto their computer screen and take photographs of the screen.

TWO RECENT NOTABLE CASES HIGHLIGHT THIS POINT

Apple Case:

I first noticed this in the recent Apple trade secrets theft indictments I wrote about in my previous post titled, “Another Apple Employee-Enroute to China – Arrested – Trade Secrets Theft”

Here are a few quotes from the Apple criminal complaint:

“…hundreds of files on Chen’s personally-owned computer were photographs of computer screens.”

“…taking a photograph of the computer screen with Apple’s information would circumvent Apple’s internal monitoring of activity on its network.”

“…When Apple’s investigation team went through Chen’s personally-owned phone, with Chen present, they discovered that it had about 100 photographs taken within the interior of Apple’s building…”

Coca-Cola Case:

I have now come across it again in the recent Coca-Cola trade secrets theft case

Here are a few quotes from the Coca-Cola criminal complaint:

“…opened files containing TSI [Trade Secrets Information] on a computer and took photographs of those TSI files while they were open on the computer screen to bypass Employer #1’s security measures.”

“…took photos of Employer #2 laboratory equipment located in secure and restricted Employer #2 laboratories…”

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

It’s not rocket science (pun intended) but it works.

ONE BASIC PROTECTION STRATEGY

So, there’s a number of IP protection strategies that could be implemented to prevent or at least substantially minimize risk to similar thefts, but a basic one (frequently raised by IP protection specialists) applies here:

Strategic CCTV Installation and Vigorous Monitoring

If a company is not going to prevent personal electronic devices (iPhones, iPads, zip drives, etc.) from being carried into their secure research areas, then the company needs to devise a strategic CCTV program to monitor the behavior of employees in an effort to identify bad actors attempting to record their trade secrets (i.e., photographs, video, or audio.)

THINGS TO CONSIDER

In the Apple case, another employee observed the accused taking photographs of his screen which was the catalyst for an investigation and eventual indictment.

In the Coca-Cola case, we don’t know (from the filed criminal complaint) if anybody noticed the accused photographing her computer screen or if CCTV captured it and, as a result, the company protection team initiated the investigation which led to FBI involvement and the subsequent indictment.

But, in another notable trade secrets case (I wrote about in October last year) involving the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) another employee overheard one of several conspiring trade secrets thieves bragging about the benefits of her criminal enterprise titled, “Composition of a Trade Secrets theft Enterprise – Case Study – Part 5 of 5”

WHAT’S THE POINT?

The point is that it is rare to come across trade secrets criminal prosecutions that originate from a company’s monitoring and protection procedures.

These major trade secrets theft cases often start when somebody just happens to notice something suspicious. As important as that is, the protection of a company’s trade secrets cannot depend on just that.

What’s needed is the implementation of robust trade secrets protection procedures to prevent the theft, and if a theft occurs, to uncover it and immediately act to recover it.

THE REALITY

Companies, by necessity, need to accept the times we live in and the bad actors out there who will go to extreme lengths to steal their “trade secrets.” Just as we all—in this age of terrorism—have learned to live with exhaustive airport screening to minimize the chance of being attacked, similarly, in this exponentially growing age of IP theft, companies need to accept the critical need to raise the “trade secrets protection mindfulness” of its employees and implement vigorous IP physical and concrete protection procedures.

NEXT POST

In our next post, we will discuss China’s “Thousand Talents Rewards Program” which was specifically raised in the Coca-Cola case.

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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On January 22nd the arrest of another Apple employee—hired to work on their self-driving program—was made by the FBI the same day he planned to board a flight to China for stealing Apple trade secrets.

You can’t help but shake your head over the audacity of this theft especially in view of the other Apple employee arrested only seven months earlier (July) before his plan to get on a flight back to China after his alleged theft.

In an effort to better understand and bring more context to what led to this recent (January) arrest, I have reviewed the criminal complaint filed by the FBI against the accused (JIZHONG CHEN).

INSTRUCTIVE

It’s instructive to consider the steps Apple took to protect their IP, as well as their follow-up investigation.

*Quoted and italicized information is extracted from the criminal complaint.

WHEN AND WHY WAS CHEN HIRED?

Chen was hired in June 2018… “…Chen was a core employee on the electrical engineering team and had full access to a subset of the Databases related to his job function on the Project.”

APPLE’S STEPS TO PROTECT THEIR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

 “…Apple’s Databases are only accessible with Apple employee credentials and password.”

“…Apple uses an internal software tool to manage requests for project disclosure and maintains a record of all disclosures.”

“…Apple limits access to the building where the Project is developed…limited by badge access.”

“…Before starting at Apple, employees must sign an Intellectual Property Agreement (“IPA”)…

Chen signed an IPA in 2018.

“…even within Apple’s operations, the Project development in the Building is not listed”

“Employees disclosed on the Project must also attend an in-person secrecy training for the Project…

Chen attended the secrecy training on June 13, 2018

“…The [Secrecy] training also covered Apple’s policy prohibiting employees from storing Apple’s intellectual property on devices over which they [Apple] do not have personal control.”

DID IT TAKE LONG FOR CHEN TO ALLEGEDLY START STEALING?

Well, it seems, no time at all.

It appears he felt comfortable enough to start stealing Apple’s self-driving trade secrets the same month he was hired.

According to the criminal complaint (as mentioned above) he attended “Secrecy Training on June 13th, and on June 20th, a photograph of “…an assembly drawing of a wire harness for an autonomous vehicle” was stored on his iPhone.

WHAT RAISED SUSPICIONS ABOUT CHEN?

Last month (January) another Apple employee observed CHEN taking wide angled photographs within the Apple workspace and reported it.

WHAT DID APPLE’s SUBSEQUENT INVESTIGATION REVEAL?

 “…Chen admitted to taking photographs in Apple’s workspace.”

“…Chen conducted a backup of his entire work computer onto a personally-owned hard-drive”

“…Chen’s personally owned computer had over two thousand files containing confidential and proprietary Apple material, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams.”

“…hundreds of files on Chen’s personally-owned computer were photographs of computer screens.”

“…taking a photograph of the computer screen with Apple’s information would circumvent Apple’s internal monitoring of activity on its network.”

“…When Apple’s investigation team went through Chen’s personally-owned phone, with Chen present, they discovered that it had about 100 photographs taken within the interior of Apple’s building. Apple deleted these photographs with Chen’s permission. Chen subsequently kept his personally-owned cellphone.”

QUESTION?

What do you think about the steps Apple took to protect their IP and their subsequent investigation?

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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The “IP PI Insider” is a quarterly newsletter that will continue to cover the four pillars of IP from an Investigations and Protection perspective.

“IP PI Insider” will be authored and administered by Maryann Santiago.

Maryann spent a career in advertising with the New York Times covering the movie industry. In that capacity, she worked directly with clients on their branded content campaigns, as well as other marketing strategies. Through that hands-on collaboration, she came to particularly appreciate the creativity and hard work put into the development and protection of intellectual property.

Maryann will draw from her decades of media and corporate experience to bring a fresh perspective to the IP investigations and protection field. We are confident Maryann will make a critical contribution to IP PI Blog.com in seeking to bring cutting edge content to you.

Maryann has a B.A. in Communications and Media Studies from New York University (NYU.)

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In my previous post, Intermediary Freight Forwarder Not Liable In Counterfeit Case-Singapore Court Rules-Part I, I mentioned I was intrigued by a recent court decision in Singapore to not hold a freight forwarder responsible at all for (albeit) unknowingly facilitating the transport of counterfeit goods, as well as the court’s decision to not instruct the freight forwarder to at least take more of an interest in “Knowing Their Customer” going forward.

TREND TO HOLD INTERMEDIARIES ACCOUNTABLE

In this post (Part II) I’d like to consider the trend to hold transport and storage intermediaries accountable.

I’ll start by providing a few details of a case my investigative group and I were involved in about eighteen-months ago that illustrates my point:

A shipping container left China en-route to a U.S. importer (consignee.) The “bill of lading” indicated that the U.S. importer was receiving “cable” and, indeed, the importer had the word “electronics” attached to its company name. This, of course, gave the impression that there was maybe a good reason for the importer to be receiving “cable.”

Except, our investigation disclosed that soon after the shipment was received by the consignee, sale invoices indicated that the same alleged “electronics” importer was selling knockoff “consumer products” (not cable) to distributors, and shortly thereafter, the knockoff consumer products began to appear in retail establishments in different parts of the U.S., as well as on e-commerce sites.

Similarly, in the Singapore case, the “bill of lading” indicated the two containers had household goods not (as Singapore Customs discovered) luxury counterfeit items.

KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMER

Perhaps, if the freight forwarder (in our investigation) was interested in “knowing its customer”, a basic background screening would have revealed that the U.S. importer’s business entity had only been established three (3) months prior to the shipment.

That, in itself, raises suspicions and is a good indicator that the consignee established the alleged “electronics business entity” essentially as a “shell” company to disguise its true purpose.

Now, the above background screening suggestion may seem absurd, but in this era of expanding global trademark infringement and intermediaries being held more accountable, it makes sense for freight forwarders to make “due diligence” efforts to know their customer before accepting business.

So…

Did the freight forwarder in our investigation take the time to inquire with the shipper about the consignee’s legitimacy?

Did our freight forwarder even care?

Did our freight forwarder review the documents they’d been provided by the shipper with interest or indifference?

Was our freight forwarder’s business position essentially, “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell”?

We don’t know. What we do know is that a container full of counterfeit consumer products was received by the criminals in a U.S. port.

HOLDING INTERMEDIARIES ACCOUNTABLE

Holding intermediaries more and more accountable —in the transfer and transport of money and products—is an increasing global trend. Intermediaries (such as banks) are expected to now make a vigorous effort to know their customers before permitting their services to be used.

The same trend is developing in the transport and exchange of products, whether through e-commerce, or the physical trading of goods. This is no less true for the transport intermediaries of large sea containers or cargo, and overland transport by rail or truck.

BASCAP REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) published an outstanding report in March 2015 titled: ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF INTERMEDIARIES: Fighting Counterfeiting and Piracy in the Supply Chain. This comprehensive report spells out the problem and makes considered recommendations.

The following points are made in the sub-section titled, “Transport Operators-Suggested Best Practices:

“Historically, the system has relied greatly on customs to identify suspicious behavior. In a vastly expanded global marketplace, enforcers, intermediaries and rights holders need to develop new solutions as seen in banking and other sectors.”

“Develop and adopt appropriate voluntary practices to stop counterfeiters’ abuse of transport and distribution systems. This effort can start with adequate due diligence and Know Your Customer processes, including quality system reviews for shipping clients and customers. These systems should ensure accurate shipment paperwork, including in-depth background checks…”

THE DECLARATION OF INTENT TO PREVENT THE MARITIME TRANSPORT OF COUNTERFEIT GOODS

In November 2016, the international shipping industry took an important step by signing a joint agreement with a number of major brand owners called, “The Declaration of Intent to Prevent the Maritime Transport of Counterfeit Goods.”

This declaration of intent was an important first step in transforming the relationships between the brand owners, the shipping industry, and their customers in order to further combat counterfeiting.

TARGETING INTERMEDIARIES

Here are a few quotes from an article published in the World Trademark Review titled, Liability of Intermediaries: The Effective Anti-Counterfeiting Tool, written by Greek IP Attorney Michalis Kosmopoulos on May 24, 2018:

“The most effective approach is to target the infrastructure and means used by counterfeiters to supply their products internationally. In this regard, counterfeiters often act through third parties…” [i.e., self-storage facilities, transportation, financial services, open markets, etc.]

“Such third-party engagement renders the liability of intermediaries a cutting-edge matter in IP law worldwide.”

“Targeting intermediaries is vital for enhancing the effectiveness of an anti-counterfeiting program.”[

SAME INTERMEDIARY ACCOUNTABILITY PRINCIPLE APPLIES TO STORAGE LOCATIONS AND FACILITIES

WILLFUL BLINDNESS

According to retired NYPD detective William Ryan, president of Ryan Investigative Group, who was quoted in a 2016 New York Times article titled: Counterfeiting Trade Settles Into a New York Standby: Self-Storage Units, “They’re (self-storage operators) not paying attention to handbags and all this stuff moving in and out on a daily basis,” he said. “Suppose they weren’t moving handbags, they’re moving weapons. ‘See something, say something?’ Not in these places.”

“A worker at a competing storage business nearby shrugged and said employees did not know what was in the lockers. Mr. Ryan was less sympathetic, suggesting a “willful blindness.”C

CONTRIBUTORY LIABILITY

U.S. IP Attorney Susan Neuberger Weller wrote in her 2013 article titled: Counterfeits, Trademark Infringement, and Contributory Liability: Your Vendors are Your Problem, “Counterfeit goods seem to be everywhere, and efforts to police their ubiquitous existence often seem futile. However, a recent decision involving counterfeit Coach products should inspire those who host vendors of counterfeit products to rethink their business strategy.”

She goes onto explain that a U.S. appeals court confirmed a district court’s award of $5 million in damages to Coach, Inc. “…for a flea market owner’s failure to stop his vendors from selling counterfeit Coach goods.

The issue before the court was whether the flea market owner could be held liable for the infringing acts of others. Although finding that the owner could not be held vicariously liable for the vendors’ counterfeiting activities (since there was no showing that he and the vendors were in a partnership relationship or had authority to bind one another or to exercise joint ownership or control of anything), the court upheld a finding of contributory liability.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IP INVESTIGATORS

The need for IP investigators to explore an intermediary’s potential culpability, as well as the subject-counterfeiter, is essential to a thorough infringement investigation. As former FBI supervisory special agent and former program manager at the U.S. National IPR Center, Michael LeMieux commented:

“…As with other intermediaries, the truly egregious of the bunch should be treated as potentially cognizant of their role in the CF supply chain and held accountable where appropriate. Investigators want to determine that intermediary culpability as early as possible in the investigation and work that aspect just as diligently as they do the case against the primary infringing party.”

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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As an IP investigator and protection specialist, I was intrigued by a recent court decision in Singapore to not hold a freight forwarder responsible at all for (albeit) unknowingly facilitating the transport of counterfeit goods.

The court did not appear to find it necessary to make a point of advising the freight forwarder to take more of an interest in “Knowing Their Customer” in the future.

I am not an attorney and will not attempt to analyze the merits of the case.

However, there are two areas I want to raise in two consecutive posts:

  • What investigative steps could plaintiffs take to gather evidence of a freight forwarder’s prior knowledge of a container’s counterfeit content, and;
  • Consider the trend to hold transport and storage intermediaries accountable even when there’s no proof they had direct knowledge that their services were being used to facilitate trademark infringement

BRIEF BACKGROUND

Two shipping containers arrived in Singapore from China en route to Indonesia. Customs uncovered counterfeit luxury goods in the containers. Freight forwarders (as per procedure) are never permitted to inspect the contents of containers. (The containers are “sealed” at the point of export and the seal is not broken until received by the consignee.) In this case, Singapore customs broke the seal and discovered the luxury counterfeits.

So, there was no opportunity for the defendant to see what was in the containers. And, the bill of lading indicated the containers had “household goods.”

Here’s a quote from an article titled, Louis Vuitton, Burberry Shut Down (Again) in Case Over $1 Million in Fakes, published in The Fashion Law on January 11, 2019,

“…the brands fell short, with the court holding that “the documents given to [Megastar-freight forwarder] merely indicated household goods and other seemingly innocuous generic merchandise. There was no evidence that luxury products were included in the cargoes.”

Moreover, the Court of Appeal stated, “There was also no evidence of any intention to import trademarked products. The facts surrounding the transactions showed that the respondent was merely providing a commercial service as freight forwarders in its ordinary course of business and nothing more.”

As a result, “imposing liability for infringement of trademarks on [Megastar] in this factual situation would be against the letter and the spirit [of Singapore’s Trade Marks Act].”

The Singapore court essentially felt that since the defendant had no knowledge of the containers’ content, it could not be held liable.

If you want a complete overview of the case, read IP attorney Martin Schweiger’s article posted on his law firm’s website on January 8, 2019 titled, “The Megastar Case – Enforcing IP Rights Against Innocent Freight Forwarders In Singapore Doe Not Work.”

INVESTIGATIVE STRATEGIES TO ESTABLISH AN INTERMEDIARY’S KNOWLEDGE

So, what would it have taken to prove a hypothetical freight forwarder knew they were about to assist in transporting counterfeit goods?

It would have taken inside information. For example, it would have taken somebody inside or close to the defendant’s business operations who had an opportunity to witness/overhear conversations or had access to documents or notes that indicated the forwarder had knowledge of the counterfeits.

Best case scenario would be for somebody on the inside of a defendant’s company (informant or undercover operative) to record (video or audio) a representative of the freight forwarder making incriminating statements that prove the forwarder’s prior knowledge.

If our IP investigative team was retained by plaintiffs under similar circumstances (before trying to identify an inside informant or attempting to place an undercover operative inside) we would have started with a background investigation of the accused freight forwarder.

We would want to know:

  • How long has the freight forwarder been in business?
  • Any registered complaints against the forwarder?
  • Outcome of those complaints?
  • Have the forwarders done business with the shippers in the past?
  • If so, how often and over what period of time?
  • If not, did they take any steps to learn who the shippers were?
  • Or are they just not interested?
  • Have the shippers been involved or suspected of prior trademark infringement activities?

Of course, there are opportunities to develop information about the shippers and the consignees’, but the above is focused on trying to determine the true extent of a hypothetical freight forwarder’s intentions and knowledge.

NEXT WEEK’S POST…

In next week’s post, we will explore how transport and storage intermediaries are being required more and more to “Know Their Customer”, especially when it cannot be established they had direct knowledge their services were being used to facilitate the transport/storage of counterfeit goods.

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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What is any alleged trade secrets thief’s WORST nightmare?

A UK hedge fund company that has a “Zero Tolerance” approach to the theft or attempted theft of its IP; moves wicked fast when that threat rears its ugly head and has the resources to not let up—ever!

That is what has happened to one alleged trade secrets thief in the U.K. named Ke XU. Just when XU might think the nightmare he’d created for himself is over, and return to China, he finds out it’s not over yet.

OBJECTIVE OF THIS POST

For purposes of this post, we will examine the prompt steps  G-Research took in an effort to prevent its trade secrets from being passed on, and its relentless pursuit of justice through the UK’s “private prosecution” procedure.

BACKSTORY

In 2012 XU, a math prodigy was employed by G-Research–a UK hedge fund.

In 2014, so the story goes, because XU was not satisfied with a £400,000 bonus, he chose to move on but not without allegedly leaving with some of the G-Research’s trade secrets.

XU TAKES OFF

One evening, XU abruptly drops a note for his G-Research boss and leaves the facility with a suitcase in which he is videotaped storing a number of documents and electronic devices.

G-RESEARCH REACTS FAST

G-Research reviewed the video of XU departing with the suitcase the next morning and responded so fast it’ll make your head spin:

  • Company lawyers get a court order directing XU to return with their property
  • The court orders XU to turn in his passport (except XU was already on a flight to Hong Kong)
  • Company investigators are waiting for the XU at the Hong Kong airport
  • According news reports, the investigators approached XU but he denied he was their guy. (It appears that since the investigators were unable to confirm his identity he was not put under immediate surveillance.)
  • Hong Kong judge imposes a travel ban on XU.
  • The next day XU tried to leave from the Hong Kong airport but is informed that he couldn’t.
  • He then takes a train to the border and hands-over a desktop computer and 3 laptops to his wife’s parents. (It appears he wasn’t under surveillance when he returned to the airport or on the train to the border, which may have been a missed opportunity.)
  • However, investigators were waiting for XU at his wife’s law firm in Hong Kong where he denied having any devices except his iPhone
  • Back in London, G-Research files a complaint with UK police
  • UK police search his London apartment and appear to come up empty
  • Nevertheless, UK police notify Hong Kong authorities and XU is arrested
  • UK authorities request his extradition back to the UK which XU willingly waives

COURT APPEARANCE #1

  • Under the “proceeds-of-crime” law, the judge orders XU to give up any confidential information, as well to reveal whom the information was shared with
  • After an interview by UK detectives, XU refused to provide any constructive information and was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment.
  • The case appeared to have come to an end…except…arriving on the scene is the UK “private prosecution” option

UK PRIVATE PROSECUTION

In the UK if the government chooses to not devote any more public resources to a case for any variety of legitimate reasons, the victim can ‘Privately Prosecute” the case. And, the attorney representing the company is officially acting in the capacity of the “Crown” prosecutor.

Here’s a quote from the South China Morning Post news article titled, “A Chinese Math Prodigy Turned Hedge Fund Coder, and The Stolen Strategies That Cost Him His Freedom” by Kit Chellel and Jeremy Hodges:

“In Britain, aggrieved financial companies have another tool to deploy in defence of their secrets: an ancient quirk of the legal system called a private prosecution. This approach allows the purported victim of a crime to investi­gate and prosecute the perpetrator if the state fails to do so.

In theory, private prosecutions are available to anyone who wants to bring a criminal complaint. They have been launched in the past by the parents of a murdered teenager and a conservative activist who accused a gay media outlet of blasphemy. But building a case is expensive, so the prac­tice is now used mostly by businesses and others with a few million pounds to spare.”

And G-Research in this case had the resources to fully utilize this UK procedure.

RELENTLESS AND METHODICAL PRESSURE ON THE XU

With the assistance of private investigators, lawyers, and IT specialists G-Research started to put a case together against the XU.

COURT APPEARANCE #2

One month before XU was to be released, G-Research charged him with five counts that included his refusal to provide a credible explanation of the missing computer’s location(s) or how the trade secrets were used.

Essentially all he would say is that his parents discarded the computers.

At one point of the trial, XU’s mother testified remotely and claimed that on one particular morning—at the crack of dawn—she and her husband had thrown the computers into a river in their hometown. Except, unbeknownst to her, at the specific time she claimed to have done this, her home was under 24 hours surveillance by private investigators.

The investigators provided documentation and testified that neither XU’s mother nor father had left their home at the time she claimed to have hurtled the computers out for an early swim. In fact, the PIs had rented a nearby flat and had XU’s parents under surveillance for the previous 11 months

XU IS SENTENCED AGAIN

XU is convicted on two counts for not detailing where the trade secrets went and who had access to it, and for sentenced to 18 months.

STRONG SIGNAL TO OTHERS

It is reported that G-Research has a reputation for passionately protecting its IP. As reported in the above article, a G-Research representative allegedly once communicated the following to a former employee:

“We will use every weapon at our disposal to stop you selling what we believe is effectively our system to the street,” Edwards wrote. “Win or lose we will certainly delay you, perhaps considerably, and we will also send a strong signal to others not to mess with our IP.”

This reminds me of how Snapchat is reported to have addressed their employees concerning the leaking of company trade secrets in 2017.

Here is a quote from my January 29, 2018 blog post titled, “Snapchat Employee Leaks–Potential Damage Chronically Misunderstood (Trade Secrets Protection”)

“If you leak Snap Inc. information, you will lose your job and we will pursue any and all legal remedies against you.”

“And that’s just the start. You can face personal financial liability even if you yourself did not benefit from the leaked information. The government, our investors, and other third parties can also seek their own remedies against you for what you disclosed. The government can even put you in jail.”

XU IS RELEASED…WELL…NOT SO FAST…

COURT APPEARANCE NUMBER #3

Toward the end of his 18-month sentence, (for a total imprisonment period of 3 years, seven months,) the employer instituted another legal action for breaching his confidentiality agreement.

In addition, G-Research lawyers filed another action that required XU to stay in the UK.

Plus company lawyers made the argument that XU’s continued failure to reveal what he’d done with the trade secrets was “contempt of court.”

Before the judge sentenced XU to another 13 months, the judge is quoted as saying, “Mr. Xu has neither admitted his contempt nor expressed remorse.”

To my knowledge, as of this posting, XU remains in jail.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This illustrates a number of things. It shows the resolve of one company to fight for their IP and to send a loud and clear message to prospective trade secrets thieves, that if you go that route, they will use all legal means to hold you accountable.

It is a model for all companies that have the financial resources to bear the expense of a thorough private investigation and litigation to follow.

“Zero Tolerance” is key.

Note: Although the U.S. and most other jurisdictions around the world have no “private prosecution” option, the basic premise of developing information through private investigation to present to law enforcement for investigation and potential prosecution remains an option. See my previous blog post titled, “Does the IP Industry Reach Out to Federal Law Enforcement Enough?”

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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A New York Times article written by Katherine Rosman last month titled, “The Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Very Litigious Bikini”, is an intriguing copyright-fashion case in so many ways, but the focus of this post will not necessarily be the merits of the case on either side, but the investigative steps taken to get to the truth.

WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?

Essentially it’s about one party (Ms. Irgit, owner of Keeni) who made the claim that others infringed on the copyright of her globally popular bikini design, except, the claimant may not be the actual originator of the design.  The claimant may have actually infringed on the IP of the true creator.

Here is a quote from IP Attorney Jeanne M. Heffernan that captures what may have happened in this case, “ ‘…Here you have a woman (Ms. Irgit) who appears to have taken the I.P. of someone else and registered it as her own — and then, it seems, had the audacity to sue an industry over something she did not create and may have stolen. If true, it’s breathtaking.’ ”

The New York Times article is a well written and detailed 4,500-word narrative that I highly recommend you read in its entirety. But, in an effort to provide highlights that are most instructive to IP PI Blog readers, I have pulled a number of quotes from the article that provide a chronological journey of the claim, followed by my occasional comment in a blue background

Note: Everything in “italics” is quoted from Katherine Rosman’s New York Times article.

SO THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS…

“Ms. Irgit (claimant) asked a friend in the fashion industry (Sally Wu) to create a prototype (of the bikini) and a factory in China made a batch at a cost of about $29 each.”

It appears the friend didn’t inquire about the bikini’s origin. Not that she was obligated to do so.

“In June 2014, People magazine called it “the hottest bikini this summer.” 

“By 2015, Ms. Irgit’s suit had brought in approximately $9 million, said Sally Wu, who for years helped the company source its bikinis from China.”

“As is often the case in fashion, Kiini’s success drew copycats. Ms. Irgit complained about it to her lawyer, who advised her to apply with the United States Copyright Office for protection.”

So she registered the bikini design with the Copyright office. Interesting.

“In 2015, she (Ms. Irgit) was particularly inflamed by the introduction of a faux-Kiini made by Victoria’s Secret.”

How about that. She didn’t create the design but stole it (allegedly) and she’s “inflamed.”

“That October, in the central district of California, her (Ms Irgit’s) lawyers filed a federal lawsuit accusing the company of copyright infringement.”

“It called for Victoria’s Secret to stop selling the swimwear and pay damages.”

“Ms. Irgit was scrappy. At one point, she surreptitiously recorded a meeting with a former Victoria’s Secret swimwear designer.”

“Then Kiini’s lawyers deposed the designer; when her testimony contradicted what was on the secret tape, they played it back for her, making for a dramatic and embarrassing moment.”

That’s actually an effective investigative tool as long as it occurs in a state that does not require all parties to be informed of the recording. (See attached link: LAWS ON RECORDING CONVERSATIONS IN ALL 50 STATES)

“As the litigation dragged on, Victoria’s Secret decided to get out of the swimwear business altogether, and by March 2017 the company and Kiini had agreed to a confidential settlement. (Victoria’s Secret declined to comment.)”

“A year later, in April 2018, Kiini filed another federal lawsuit, this time in the Southern District of New York, against Neiman Marcus and two swimwear companies.”

The claimant appears to be relentless in preventing anybody else from stealing what she allegedly stole.

CLAIMANT LOVED THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“It was the creative process she most cherished, she said. She meandered, though, when I asked her repeatedly to talk about inventing the Kiini.”

“Did she sketch it? How did she come up with the idea of threading elastic through crochet?”

Good basic investigative questions: When did you create it? Where did you create it? Who did you create/develop it with? What did you use to create it? How did you create it?  Why did you create it?

“It goes back to with my grandmother,” Ms. Irgit said, in her most specific answer. “We used to make things like crochet bikinis, so I was like 10 and 11.”

“What about the bathing suit Ms. Irgit was wearing on the beach in Montauk in 2012 with Mr. Becker? Who made it? “I had had it made,” was all Ms. Irgit would say.”

Her answers are not specific. Evasive. A red flag should go up for the investigator.

LET’S TALK TO MS. IRGIT’S 2012 PADDLEBALL BUDDY

“I called Mr. Becker, her (Ms. Irgit’s) paddleball partner.”

2012. “He remembered the moment well. “She was wearing it,” Mr. Becker said. “I noticed it and I said it was really cool.”

“She told me she had found them in Brazil and was contemplating starting to do something with it in different varieties.”

UH, OH…

LOCATE AND INTERVIEW BRAZILIAN BIKINI DESIGNER

“I created this bikini to survive,” Ms. Ferrarini (the alleged true designer of the bikini)  said. She was born in São Carlos, a university city outside São Paulo, where her father was a bricklayer and her mother was a seamstress.”

“When she was 10, her mother taught her to crochet so that she could make clothes for herself and her younger sisters.”

“She crocheted thong bikini bottoms and sold them by pacing the beach. It was nudist, though, and that created a problem.”

“To get back to the guesthouse at the end of the day, Ms. Ferrarini had to pass a seaside church. As a Catholic, she didn’t feel right walking by in just a thong, with her breasts exposed.”

“In reverence, she added a handmade, curtain-like top that draped over her chest. The design evolved into a bikini top.”

As an investigator, when you get this kind of detail it just rings true. You can ask an additional 100 questions (and should) but you know you’re hearing the truth.

“When Ms. Ferrarini realized she needed more support than yarn could provide, she began to thread elastics through the crochet to give a little lift.”

“Other women quickly took note. They asked her to make tops for them, too. Initially, she sold the bikinis for the equivalent of $2.50. She increased the price by about $5 every couple of years.”

NOW IT GETS MORE DICEY FOR Ms. IRGIT

“Ms. Wu said that Ms. Irgit told her, “I need to figure out how to copy it.”

“Ms. Wu was surprised, she said, to get a phone call from Ms. Irgit one night in the late summer of 2016.”

“…lawyers for Victoria’s Secret had learned that Ms. Wu had a hand in Kiini’s production.”

“Victoria’s Secret had given Ms. Irgit’s lawyers advance notice that Ms. Wu was going to receive a subpoena for a deposition.”

“Ms. Wu said she clearly recalled what Ms. Irgit said next. “She’s like, ‘You can’t really tell them I copied.’ I said, ‘Listen, Ipek, I’m not going to lie.” 

“Before Ms. Irgit departed, Ms. Wu said, Ms. Irgit wrote a note on a yellow sticky pad.”

“It read, “If Kiini LLC wins the VS case Ipek is treating” — the penmanship is imprecise and the word “treating” might be “hosting” or “having” — “Sally ChaCha and 3 optional friends on holiday anywhere in the world!” (Cha Cha was a nickname for Ms. Wu’s daughter.)”

“She signed it ‘Ipek’ , underlining her name in a flourish.”

“Ms. Wu said she never received a subpoena. The next year, Victoria’s Secret settled the lawsuit with Kiini.”

As IP investigators we can’t help but wonder why Victoria’s Secret never subpoenaed WU. You would think that if they had followed through, they may not have settled, and the infringement claim against them would have been withdrawn.

ANOTHER LAWYER GETS THE CALL

“He (former U.S. federal prosecutor, Jason Forge) got in touch with lawyers involved in the Victoria’s Secret litigation and heard rumors of an unacknowledged bikini maker in Brazil.”

Former law-enforcement gets involved, and, of course, systematically starts to uncover the truth

Goes online and excavates a video that provides identifying information about the potential true creator of the bikini

“Online, he found a video made by a friend of Ms. Ferrarini’s in 2016 that displayed her phone number.”

“…thrilled to learn from someone at Neiman Marcus that there was a woman named Sally Wu who had worked with Ms. Irgit from the beginning.”

Former law enforcement attorney contacts other parties being sued by Ms. Irgit and learns about her colleague. This, of course, is a routine investigative step. Locate friends and colleagues (present and former) who might be willing to shed some light on what was going on

INTERVIEW MS. IRGIT’S COLLEAGUE

“Mr. Forge met Ms. Wu for a drink and got her story.”

Nice.

“She subsequently emailed him a photo of the yellow sticky note with Ms. Irgit’s signed offer.”

Even nicer.

“She also agreed to give Mr. Forge access to data from her old hard drives.”

Are you kidding me?

“Within days, he was looking at the “Sally darling” email Ms. Irgit sent to Ms. Wu some six years earlier, with photographs of the bikini she wished the Chinese producers to use as a reference for her prototype.”

Motivate me!

“On his computer, Mr. Forge scrutinized the pictures for details. One image was of the bikini bottom turned inside out.”

Excellent attention to detail!

“Mr. Forge zoomed in. He zoomed again.”

“Then he saw it. “I could not believe my eyes,” Mr. Forge told me. On the elastic, in marker, was a phone number, the words “Trancoso, B.A.” and the signature of Solange Ferrarini.”

Slam-dunk!!!

FOLLOW-UP INTERVEW WITH THE CLAIMANT

“She didn’t have much to say about why the bathing suit shown in a photograph submitted to the Copyright Office is a near replica of Ms. Ferrarini’s bikini.

Of course, not a surprise.

“She said the note promising Ms. Wu a reward if a court verdict went her way was not a bribe.

That’s to be expected.

“At one point during the interview, Ms. Irgit walked into another room and returned with what she considered evidence that she created the design that became the Kiini.”

“It was a bikini made in the Ferrarini/Kiini style, with elastic woven through crochet sewed to fabric — in this case, padded leotard-like pink fabric with mustard-yellow polka dots.”

“The suit, she said, was made in 1999 and had been at her aunt’s house in Turkey until recently.”

*Tough spot. Ms. Irgit appeared to be grasping at straws.

“Ms. Irgit declined to be quoted directly on a number of topics.”

*No, we wouldn’t think so.

OBSERVATION

Isn’t it conceivable that if Ms. Irgit had approached Ms. Farrarini in Brazil, she may have had a collaboration opportunity in which both would have benefited?

Thirty years ago there was a very popular U.S. film titled, “Working Girl” starring Melanie Griffin and Harrison Ford. It is about a secretary who is trying to advance in the corporate world and comes up with an M & A idea that her boss dismisses, but—without telling the secretary—her boss submits to upper management and claims as her own.

There’s a scene at the end in which her boss is asked to explain how she came up with the business idea, but she was at a loss. Of course, the secretary had no problem there. The boss is fired and the secretary is upgraded to a management position.

MORAL OF THIS CASE

So, the moral of the story is that there are generally two options:

  1. Don’t steal another person’s idea.
  2. Come up with an original idea yourself.

Disclaimer: IPPIBlog.com is offered as a service to the professional IP community. While every effort has been made to check information in this blog, we provide no guarantees or warranties, express or implied, with regard to content provided in IPPIBlog.com. We disclaim any and all liability and responsibility for the qualification or accuracy of representations made by the contributors or for any disputes that may arise. It is the responsibility of the readers to independently investigate and verify the credentials of such person and the accuracy and validity of the information provided by them. This blog is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice.

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