Conflicting Texas federal district court opinions have been issued on one aspect of the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”). The issue in dispute is whether (1) a plaintiff must establish that the defendant originally used improper means to gain access to the trade secret or (2) it is sufficient for the plaintiff to show that the defendant used or disclosed the trade secret in violation of an obligation not to do so.
This is significant when you consider a common fact pattern in trade secret lawsuits. The plaintiff claims that it voluntarily disclosed its trade secrets to the defendant either because the defendant was the plaintiff’s employee or because the defendant first signed a non-disclosure agreement. If voluntary disclosure of trade secrets under these circumstances is fatal to the plaintiff’s claim, then much of TUTSA’s bite disappears. The statute would be left to cover situations of overt theft – such as breaking into a company office to steal a trade secret or bribing an employee to disclose the trade secret.
Although three of the cases discussed below held that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acquired the trade secret through improper means, those decisions conflict with the text of TUTSA. Recent opinions reaching the opposite conclusion are also discussed below. Continue reading