In some trade secret disputes, the wrongdoing falls on the shoulders of an individual worker. This person might intentionally steal proprietary information or share it with a competitor in exchange for something like a lucrative job offer.
However, sometimes businesses engage in unfair practices that put employees in the middle of a messy – and occasionally illegal – situation.
Cartier versus Tiffany
A recent case between Cartier and Tiffany & Co. can be an example of what happens when employees get caught in the middle of a dispute between employers.
Both Cartier and Tiffany are well-known luxury jewelry companies that started back in the 1800s. Today, they are competitors that are locked in a legal battle.
According to reports, Cartier is accusing Tiffany of stealing trade secrets. The company argues that Tiffany hired away a Cartier employee for the purposes of getting information, calling the employee underqualified. Tiffany fired the worker after just five weeks.
Cartier also says Tiffany allowed a former Cartier employee to work on a project in violation of her non-compete agreement with Cartier.
The lawsuit alleges Tiffany’s hiring practices crossed the line between commercially ambitious and illegal. They are seeking damages and injunctions to stop any infringement on trade secrets.
One question that cases like this raise is who is responsible for trade secret violations: individual employees or the businesses that hire them?
What can others take away from this case?
Companies ultimately want to protect themselves, their assets and their place in the market. Some companies will engage in unfair practices to accomplish this, and determining if that has happened can be very difficult.
In some cases, businesses might wrongfully blame an individual for illegal conduct, which may not be accurate. Others might deny any knowledge of unlawful conduct, and proving otherwise can be complicated.
Considering the legal intricacies of protecting trade secrets and how high the financial stakes can be, approaching intellectual property disputes aggressively and swiftly can be crucial.