On January 9, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Uniform Trade Secrets Act (NJTSA), which is intended to afford greater protection for trade secrets in New Jersey. New Jersey, recognizing the significant damage that misappropriation of trade secrets poses to businesses in the state, now follows 46 of its fellow states and the District of Columbia, all of which have adopted, in whole or in part, the general uniform law. Employers need to take several steps to benefit from the protection provided by the NJTSA and to protect themselves from claims of misappropriation by competitors.
Prior to the adoption of this statute, employers were left to rely on common law when seeking to protect their trade secrets through the courts. In the event of a threatened or actual loss of trade secrets through misappropriation, businesses often faced uncertainty concerning their legal rights and potential remedies. The NJTSA is intended to provide greater clarity and consistency. Further, the NJTSA has some important differences from the general uniform law as adopted by other jurisdictions, as well as from the pre-existing common law of New Jersey.
Scope. In adopting the NJTSA, the New Jersey Legislature has broadly defined the concept of what a trade secret is, which should provide greater protection to companies and balance competing interests.
The legal standard for a trade secret protected by the statute applies to "information, held by one or more people, without regard to form, including a formula, pattern, business data compilation, program, device, method, technique, design, diagram, drawing, invention, plan, procedure, prototype or process, that: (1) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (2) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy."
The Legislature has also broadly defined the term "improper means" so that it specifically includes "access that is unauthorized or exceeds the scope of authorization, or other means that violate a person's rights under the laws of this State." The Legislature also included a statutory definition for reverse engineering.
Remedies. The NJTSA includes a three-year statute of limitations, which departs from the six years previously provided under New Jersey law. The statute of limitations is triggered when "the misappropriation is discovered or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered." A continuing misappropriation is now a single claim rather than multiple claims.
The NJTSA also provides greater remedies than were available under the common-law protections previously afforded by New Jersey, including the following:
What This Means to You. At the outset it should be noted that New Jersey has departed in several ways from the general uniform law, and therefore, a close review of New Jersey's statute is necessary for a full understanding of its scope. Given the changes in the statute of limitations, employers must be vigilant in their efforts to protect and preserve their valuable corporate assets. In order to fully obtain the benefits of this new statute, employers should have in place reasonable precautions directed at keeping their trade secrets confidential and also be able to establish that these steps were consistently applied and enforced. To meet this objective, employers need a comprehensive "trade secret protection policy," and any existing policies should be re-examined at this time. For example, now that the definition of "improper means" has been statutorily broadened to include access that "exceeds the scope of authorization," it is important for employers to specifically define their employees' scope of authority when accessing company computers. Employers should consider conducting a trade-secret audit to assess the protections in place and monitor for potential misappropriation. It is now even more important for employers to be proactive in their efforts, mandate compliance with all preservation policies, and consult with counsel as to important issues with respect to confidentiality affecting their business and/or industry.
In addition, employers should also consider potential liability. As a result of the potential for augmented remedies, including attorney fees and costs, we anticipate increased litigation. Accordingly, employers should evaluate their hiring practices and other internal practices so as to guard against misappropriation claims asserted against them by competitors. This includes learning of any potential obligations of new hires and requiring that they be specifically precluded from disclosing or using trade secrets belonging to others in the performance of their duties.
On June 19, Day Pitney LLP and the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Northeast Chapter will co-host a program, "Understanding Your Brand Identity: Bridging the Gap Between Business and Legal," held at Day Pitney's Boston office.
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On November 5, Philip Pacelli will be speaking at Intellectual Property: Tips for General Practitioners, a CLE program being presented by the Young Lawyers Section of the Connecticut Bar Association and held at the CBA Law Center in New Britain, CT.
On October 2, partner Cathy O'Connor will serve as a moderator at "Advertising and Marketing Pitfalls: Staying on the Right Side of the Law," a program presented by the Entertainment, Media & IP Law Committee of the Fairfield County Bar Association and held in Stamford, CT.
On September 27 and 28, Day Pitney will be hosting "Canadian Update on Trademark Law for U.S. Practitioners," a roundtable program presented by the International Trademark Association (INTA).
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On October 26, Day Pitney LLP hosted a program on entrepreneurship and innovation with the Consulate General of Israel to New England and the New England Israel Business Council at the firm's Boston office.
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Carrie Webb Olson, Elizabeth A. Alquist and Mitchell R. Harris have been selected as winners of the Lexology Client Choice Awards USA & Canada 2017.
Richard Brown was quoted in an article, "Winery Sues NJ Turnpike Authority to Defend Right to Use Highway Sign in Logo," in The New Jersey Law Journal.