Before the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) became federal law in the spring of 2016, Supreme Court watchers would likely care little about prospective justices’ approach to trade secrets matters. Such matters were the province of state law, and the phrase “trade secret” might be avoided, even in passing, in the opinions of the Supreme Court for entire terms or more. But with DTSA cases being reported with increasing regularity, differences in interpretation are beginning to emerge. Supreme Court attention may follow.
Because DTSA says that “misappropriation of a trade secret” can involve unlawful acquisition of a trade secret, or improper disclosure of a trade secret, or unauthorized use of a trade secret, the impact of the statute’s May 11, 2016 “effective date” has been the subject of some debate. For instance, should the act apply to a trade secret unlawfully acquired on May 10, 2016 but improperly used or disclosed on May 12, 2016 or thereafter? Likewise, what if a trade secret unlawfully acquired and used before May 10, 2016 is used again after May 11, 2016? These issues have come up in cases in March and January 2017 in the Northern District of California, in March 2017 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and earlier in the Middle District of Florida. The answers and analysis found in these opinions is not always entirely consistent, which suggests that this issue under DTSA as well as others will continue to be litigated.
Should differences arise between circuits, the Supreme Court might be called upon to interpret the reach of DTSA. In that vein, one might wish to look at the Court’s newest member, Neil Gorsuch, and his opinions while a 10th Circuit judge in Storagecraft Technology Corp. v. Kirby, 744 F. 3d 1183 (10th Circuit 2014), and in Russo v. Ballard Medical Products, 550 F. 3d 1004 (10th Circuit 2008). Each reveal interesting elements of Judge — now Justice — Gorsuch’s approach to trade secrets matters.
Storagecraft proves interesting opinion on several levels. That case involved the Utah trade secrets act in a case coming to the 10th Circuit after being brought in the federal district court as a matter of diversity jurisdiction. In addressing one of the appealing defendant’s arguments, the Gorsuch opinion rejected the notion that one need show that a defendant facilitated another’s commercial gain to recover under the statute: