MPC Containment Sys., Ltd. v. Moreland, No. 05 C 6973, 2008 WL 2875007 (N.D. Ill. Jul. 23, 2008) (Aspen, Sen. J.).*

Judge Aspen granted in part and denied in part defendants’ summary judgment motion regarding plaintiffs’ copyright, Lanham Act, trade secret and related state law claims.** Plaintiffs and defendants both design, manufacture and sell flexible fuel storage tanks. Corporate defendant MIL was formed by at least individual defendants John and Lawrence, both of whom previously worked for plaintiffs in various capacities and later worked for MIL in direct competition with plaintiffs over, at least, a United States Air Force contract.

Trade Secret Misappropriation

The Court held that plaintiffs’ pricing and warranty provisions were not trade secrets and, therefore, granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor. But the Court held that there was a question of fact as to whether plaintiffs’ tank designs were trade secrets. Additionally, the Court noted that the question of whether sufficient efforts were used to maintain secrecy of the alleged trade secrets was a question of fact for jurors in all, but the most extreme cases. Because plaintiffs identified several precautions taken to protect their trade secrets, the Court denied summary judgment. The fact that tank designs were provided to plaintiffs’ independent contractors without confidentiality did not warrant summary judgment for defendants. There are circumstances where independent contractors have independent, professional duties of confidentiality regardless of whether agreements were signed.

Copyright Infringement

Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ copyrighted fuel tank drawings were not original, as required for copyright ownership, because defendant John authored the drawings, not plaintiffs. The Court held that there was a question of fact as to the ownership because the parties disputed John’s employment status when he made the drawings. If John was an employee, plaintiffs owned the copyrights based upon the work for hire doctrine.

The Court also found a question of fact as to the degree of creativity employed in making plaintiffs’ drawings. A comparison of plaintiffs’ drawings and defendants’ drawings, which defendants alleged plaintiffs copied, left a question of fact as to whether plaintiffs’ drawings showed sufficient differences to rise to the level of creativity.

Compute Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”)

The Court granted defendants summary judgment as to CFAA § 1030(a)(4) because plaintiffs did not respond to defendants’ claims and, therefore, waived their defenses. But the Court found questions of fact as to the two other charged sections of the CFAA, §§ 1030 (a)(2)(c) and (a)(5). First, there was a question of fact as to whether defendant John was authorized to access the documents he allegedly misappropriated. While John may have received the documents at issue during the normal course of his employment with plaintiffs, there was a dispute as to whether John exceeded his authorization by allegedly breaching his duty of loyalty to plaintiffs.

Additionally, there was a question of fact as to whether John passively received all accused documents by email or “accessed” the documents pursuant to the CFAA actively by email or otherwise.

Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“IDTPA”)

The IDTPA only provides for injunctive relief, not monetary damages. As a result, the IDTPA only addresses ongoing harms. The Court, therefore, granted defendants’ summary judgment as to defendants’ past acts. The Court also explained that it would not grant an IDTPA injunction to eliminate an existing commercial advantage, as courts sometimes do in trade secrets cases.

 

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**  This post does not cover some of the non-IP specific state law claims.