For those that will be around Seattle this Friday, March 27th, I will be speaking at the Seattle Angels Meetup Group’s Pitch & Demo Night on IP protection for start-ups and entrepreneurs. It will be from 4:00-7:00 P.M at the Good Bar in Pioneer Square. Regardless of your interest in IP, it should be a good networking event for entrepreneurs or anyone working at a start-up.
Hope to see you there!
It was announced today that for the next six months, I will be given the great honor of being a guest contributor for the UK-based IP blog The IPKat where I will be posting on IP developments throughout the world.
Don’t worry, I am still intending to blog on international, cross-border and trade-related IP issues for The IP Exporter. If any of you have any stories you feel need to be covered, either in The IP Exporter or The IPKat, please feel free to send me a message.
Thank you for all of your continued support!
On March 17th, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed charges in U.S. Federal Court (Western District Washington) against Russian national Alex A. Kibkalo for stealing trade secrets from software giant Microsoft under The 1996 Economic Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 1832). Although U.S. v. Kibkalo (14-mj-00114) has yet to be ruled on, and despite involving a large multi-national business like Microsoft, this case highlights several cross-border trade secret protection issues all internationally-focused businesses should consider.
Facts. To understand these trade secret protection issues, it is important to first understand the alleged facts of this case. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Complaint, Kibkalo was a Microsoft employee, working as software architect in Microsoft’s Lebanon office. He allegedly signed a non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) at the beginning of his employment.
Between July and August 2012, Mr. Kibkalo allegedly established a virtual machine on a computer server at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters to upload unreleased versions of Microsoft’s software updates and a software development kit (collectively, “Content”) to his personal cloud storage account. The Content was secured on Microsoft’s internal system by Microsoft’s internal security program that included limited facility and electronic system access points, facility monitoring, and unique identifying signature technology to track downloaded proprietary information from the internal system. Those who accessed content on Microsoft’s internal electronic system were also required to accept Microsoft’s terms of service that included warnings concerning the proprietary nature of content on the internal system as well as reminders to Microsoft employees and others of their non-disclosure obligations pertaining to proprietary information on the system.
Once Mr. Kibkalo allegedly downloaded the Content, he allegedly transmitted links to the Content to a French technology blogger whose actual geographic location was unknown. Microsoft became aware of alleged transmission through an outside source who was contacted by the blogger about the Content. Microsoft subsequently monitored the blogger’s communication through the blogger’s Microsoft Windows Live Messenger account. An examination of the blogger’s Messenger communications and emails allegedly verified the transmission and unique identifiers in the Content.
Lessons To Be Learned. Although this fact pattern is by no means novel, it does reveal cross-border trade secret protection issues all companies should consider in order to ensure their trade secrets are protected under U.S. and foreign trade secret laws.
So what protection issues need to be considered?
Worker Protection Measures. Kibkalo emphasizes that establishing trade secret protections through contractual provisions with contractors and employees is essential for businesses to protect their proprietary information, both at home and abroad. Under U.S. law (18 U.S.C. § 1839(3)) and international legal standards (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – Art. 39.2(c)), businesses who wish for their proprietary information to qualify for trade secret protection must take “reasonable” measures to protect such information from public disclosure. Often, this requires that a business have their employees, contractors or any other person to whom they disclose the business’ proprietary information sign a NDA (or similar agreement) prohibiting such persons from disclosing the proprietary information to others. See MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 521 (9th Cir. 1993).
Assuming Microsoft had an effective NDA executed with Mr. Kibkalo under U.S. law, Microsoft would likely be in a position to enforce trade secret protections in the Content under U.S. law.
Any business, regardless of its geographical location or the location of its employees or contractors, can also take similar protective measures.
Internal Security Measures. This case also highlights that international businesses need to establish internal security measures in order to effectively protect their proprietary information. Electronic and facility security measures, such as access restrictions, surveillance mechanisms have been found to be reasonable protection measures to help businesses qualify for trade secret protection. See U.S. v. Chung, 659 F.3d 815, 825 (9th Cir. 2011). As Microsoft attests to maintaining similar security measures, such measures would likely help Microsoft to obtain trade secret protection for its Content.
It goes without saying that not all businesses can afford the same level of security protections as multinational businesses like Microsoft. Yet, simple and relatively inexpensive security measures such as password protections, locking of files and computer equipment, as well as posting confidential notices on proprietary information can effectively help any business to better qualify for trade secret protection, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Online Monitoring Measures. Lastly, this case highlights the importance of online surveillance and tracking measures that businesses should consider acquiring to protect their proprietary information throughout the globe. Although generally not required to obtain trade secret protection under U.S. and/or foreign laws, the monitoring of suspected persons or entities who may be misappropriating trade secrets (*provided they are done so in compliance with applicable laws and regulations), as well as tracking software, are both effective tools to identify and prevent trade secret misappropriation. Microsoft would not have been able to determine that Mr. Kibalko had allegedly stolen the Content in the U.S. and allegedly transmitted it to the blogger outside of the U.S. without its unique identifier technology.
Granted, not all businesses have the same circumstances that allowed Microsoft to find out about the blogger and Mr. Kibalko’s alleged activities (e.g., outside sources, access to Messenger and email accounts, etc.), nor the available funds to conduct Microsoft’s extensive online surveillance activities. Yet, there are many (legal) monitoring services, investigating agencies, and identifying software products on the market that can help businesses better monitor misappropriating conduct both at home and abroad.
What’s The Takeaway? It remains to be seen how U.S. v. Kibkalo will be decided. However, this ongoing case shows that all internationally-focused businesses can develop sound practices and procedures to ensure their proprietary information is protected throughout the world. By establishing effective worker protection measures, internal security measures, as well as online monitoring measures, businesses can better protect their trade secrets from being misappropriated both at home and abroad.
Co-Authored by Shreya Ley, Attorney and Owner of Lay Roots
You may have thought that this summer was all about capturing that certain bohemian-chic essence, but the true trendsetters are all talking about recent developments in Indian patent law. In April, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in Novartis AG v. Union of India & Others that Swiss pharmaceutical maker Novartis was not entitled to patent protections for their leukemia treatment drug Gleevec. The Indian Supreme Court’s rationale was heavily based on their efforts to stop pharmaceutical “evergreening” – a practice pharmaceutical companies use to extend the life of a patent by seeking patent protection of subsequent improvements to their drugs or alternative, novel uses for such drugs.
Novartis had been attempting to patent a new and improved version of Gleevec. It had been unable to patent the original version of the drug in India because India did not recognize or grant pharmaceutical patents prior to completing their implementation of their World Trade Organization obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 2005. Upon discovering an improved version of Gleevec, Novartis sought to gain patent protection in an effort to halt the rampant manufacturing of generic forms of the drug in India. However, the Indian Supreme Court found that Novartis had not created enough of an improvement in the new Gleevec to qualify the drug as a new invention. Since Novartis’ ruling, Indian courts have subsequently invalidated other similar patent applications as seen last Friday with the invalidation of the Glaxo Smith Kline’s cancer drug Tykerb.
The Novartis decision and other similar Indian court rulings that refused to grant patent protections to pharmaceutical improvements have become the major impetus for foreign businesses and governments to denounce the Indian patent system as being broken, unjust, or perhaps just biased against non-Indian inventors. Around the world, India’s stand against pharmaceutical evergreening has led such entities to decry the general state of innovation in India. Here in the U.S., the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America commented that the Novartis ruling was a sign of India’s “deteriorating innovation environment” and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative remarked that recent Indian patent developments have “raised serious questions about the innovation climate in India and risk hindering the country’s progress towards an innovation-focused economy.” Such rhetoric has inevitably led American and other non-Indian businesses to become weary of working with Indian resident companies and inventors, ”hear ye, hear ye, innovators around the world! Take heed of this warning tale!”
Well, “fear not!” Keep in mind that Novartis and the other related Indian court decisions only apply to pharmaceutical patents as such rulings have been based on a specific provision in the Indian Patent Act relating to incremental innovations in pharmaceuticals. So, given the limited applicability of Novartis and related cases, foreign businesses should simply forge ahead with their Indian business relationships, right?
Not quite so fast. Dealing with any foreign business, inventor, or entity comes with its own challenges and those looking to partner with Indian resident businesses should consider the following before getting too involved.
1. Get a Comprehensive Agreement in Place Beforehand. Many partnering businesses have a difficult time putting a written agreement together prior to beginning their business relationship. THIS. IS. A. MISTAKE. Getting a clear agreement in place beforehand is important for foreign businesses and their Indian counterparts to prevent future misunderstandings that could potentially derail their objectives and result in substantial costs. Such an agreement should not only clearly outline the parties’ rights and obligations with respect to the Intellectual Property (IP) created in their relationship, it should additionally cover business aspects of the relationship. Although a large part of such relationships is based on the IP, the business side encompasses what happens once IP is created and it is equally important.
Specifically, agreements should address the following:
What is being protected? The agreement should clarify for foreign businesses and their Indian counterparts the types of IP their relationship needs to protect. This can be as simple as designating that both patentable and trade secret innovations will be protected and as complicated as describing protections for each and every potential innovation arising out of the relationship, whether a part of the parties’ original intentions or not. This designation process will not only help to define the scope of the parties’ project, it will also help ensure that the parties seek appropriate protections and enforcement measure for their IP. Completing this exercise is especially important in a cross-border context as the enforcement of IP rights abroad may be more difficult than simply making sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning. India in particular has been notorious for lacking the necessary infrastructure to enforce IP rights efficiently.
Who gets ownership? Establishing ownership of resulting IP from an Indian business relationship is important in an initial agreement because countries vary in the rights they give to owners and inventors. For example, Section 2(p) of the Indian Patent Act uses the term “patentee” for patent owners that is defined as “the person for the time being entered on the register as the grantee or proprietor of the patent.” In contrast, the U.S. does not officially use the term “patentee” and most American inventors would probably assume that patentee refers specifically to inventors. As illustrated above however, “patentee” in India is not necessarily limited to inventors. Therefore, making sure that all parties are clear on who will be named inventors and who will own resulting IP is essential to ensuring a good business relationship with an Indian resident business or inventor.
Who gets paid? This, inevitably, is a difficult topic to discuss, and it is inextricably tied to IP ownership rights. When there is no money coming in, everyone wants to split things down the middle. However, once there is money or it looks like there will be no money, businesses start to quibble. In order to avoid costly, drawn out battles that could prevent businesses from furthering an otherwise fruitful relationship, it is important to outline how all parties are to be compensated for their hard work, time and ingenuity once their relationship has taken off as well as when it has reached its conclusion.
Outlining business plans in writing through an agreement not only forces the parties to talk about their innovation strategy, marketing plans, and production plans; it also enables them to have a clearer direction for their relationship. If anyone is worried that creating a detailed, written plan will inhibit their creativity, then remember that a good agreement should leave some room for flexibility. Allowing such flexibility can lead to great innovation and profitability. Ultimately, however, having a clear outline of where the parties’ want to go, how they want to get there, and what they need to get to that point (the “what” usually being the IP) can lead to a more profitable and innovative business relationship and can prevent costly future litigation.
2. Be Conscious of Indian Patent Filing Requirements and Tolling Restrictions. Understanding Indian patent application filing requirements and the interplay between them and other foreign patent filing requirements is essential for businesses to ensure the broadest global patent protections for their resulting innovations. The most important thing for non-Indian businesses to realize is that Section 39 of the Indian Patent Act requires that patent applications for any invention created with the help of Indian residents must first be filed in India. Yes, before filing an international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, before filing a U.S. patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and before filing a patent application anywhere else, foreign businesses working with Indian inventors must file a patent application with India’s patent office (The Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks (Controller)).
Does that sound unreasonable? Foreign businesses may be able to apply for special permission from the Controller to initially file abroad, but don’t bet on the Controller bending the rules. If no special permission is given, a foreign business must wait for approximately six weeks after filing in India to file elsewhere.
So, if a foreign business has applied with the Controller and waited six weeks, they can now submit applications anywhere else…right? Sure! Just make sure not to dilly-dally because filing in India limits the amount of time a business has to file their patent application with the USPTO and other national patent offices. Knowing the timelines from start to finish of the Indian patent application system and how filing dates in India affect the requirements for filing applications in other countries can greatly impact business decisions.
Parting Thoughts. Go forth and innovate with Indian resident compatriots! The considerations above and recent Indian pharmaceutical patent decisions should not stop foreign businesses from doing so. Collaboration enables people to create great innovations, but every business relationship, whether down the hallway or across the world, has its own challenges and limitations. It’s good for businesses to be honest about those challenges and to create a plan for overcoming them before they run into them. These general suggestions don’t apply to everyone and it’s always wise to consult with qualified local counsel and persons who can advise on the particulars of a specific business. In the end, it will save businesses a lot of time, headaches, and money to simply invest in the relationship by setting it up correctly.
Also, no matter how overwhelming the planning process may seem, just remember, at least you’re not going up against Bollywood screenwriters who generously “borrow” from American film. In cases like those, it’s best to pop some popcorn, settle onto the couch, and enjoy the results – because the results ARE rather glorious, are they not?