Twitter made headlines last week with its threat to sue Meta over the launch of its competing service called “Threads.” This incident serves as a reminder that protecting trade secrets and avoiding becoming a defendant in a misappropriation lawsuit is vital to running any business.
According to Twitter’s letter to Meta, it has “serious concerns” that Facebook parent Meta hired “dozens of former Twitter employees” in order to build its new “copycat.” Threads app. Meta denied the claim.
Twitter’s attorneys assert Meta allegedly relied on the contributions of numerous ex-Twitter employees who supposedly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices without authorization. This claim comes as Meta introduces its Threads social media app, which was launched on Wednesday.”
Here is an excerpt from the Twitter letter:
“Twitter knows that these employees previously worked at Twitter; that these employees had and continue to have access to Twitter’s trade secrets and other highly confidential information; that these employees oh ongoing obligations to Twitter; and that many of these employees have improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices … Meta deliberately assigned these employees to develop, in a matter of months, Meta’s copycat “Threads” app with the specific intent that the use Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property in order to accelerate the development of Mehta’s competing app, in violation of both state and federal law …”
But is Twitter Serious about suing for trade secret misappropriation?
Over the span of two decades, I have represented clients, both in pursuing and defending legal disputes over the misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information. Based on that experience, Twitter’s claims appear to be more of a display of bravado rather than a legitimate legal threat.
At the outset, Twitter’s threat to initiate legal action in safeguarding intellectual property starkly contrasts the statements made by its owner, Elon Musk, regarding the significance of such assets. Specifically, back in 2014, Mr. Musk vehemently criticized patent protection as being a path for the feeble-minded. He proceeded to assert,
Patents are generally used as a blocking technique they’re like using like land mines in warfare … they don’t actually help advance things … and most patents are bs …https://youtu.be/DpZj9mvcJYs.
Furthermore, Twitter’s legal representatives neglected to supply fundamental information regarding the former Twitter employees allegedly assigned to Meta’s Threads development team. For example, they failed to identify any agreements claimed to have been violated or provide a description of the intellectual property it accuses Meta of misappropriating. Typically, the party in Twitter’s position will want to make a strong showing out of the gate and establish Meta had knowledge about the alleged wrongdoing, i.e., knowledge the former Twitter employees misappropriated Twitter information and were subject to contractual obligations.
Furthermore, Twitter did not request the return of any supposed trade secrets or confidential information or seek other remedial actions. The inclusion of such demands aims to safeguard the value of the claimed intellectual property and mitigate potential harm from any unauthorized use. It can also provide valuable evidence against Meta if this matter goes to trial.
Recommendations for Protecting Trade Secrets
Regardless of whose version of the truth wins out in this latest keyboard fight match between Meta and Twitter, it’s vital for businesses to protect their trade secrets and avoid getting caught up in a misappropriation claim.
Among such protections, businesses will want to use to protect trade secrets are:
- Using non-disclosure agreements (NDA): A contract binding two parties to maintain confidentiality of shared information.
- Institute a policy for employees working remotely which requires that any sensitive information or documents remain on the company’s network or devices. Or better yet, use document management software that limits or creates audit trails of access history.
- Ensuring trade secrets security, including through encryption, turnover procedures for departing employees, and the like.
- Employee training on security protocols
- Limiting access to sensitive documents/systems to essential personnel.
With the proper measures, companies can protect their information and intellectual property from being misused or shared with competitors. By investing in such protective measures, businesses can better mitigate the risk of costly legal disputes and potential damages.
To avoid becoming a defendant in a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit, companies should prioritize adopting best practices when hiring employees with a prior history at a competitor. These practices include:
- Requiring all newly hired employees to sign a written agreement affirming their commitment not to disclose any confidential information obtained from their former employer.
- Requesting new employees to provide written confirmation that they have either returned or destroyed all materials received from their previous employer.
- Developing and implementing a clear trade secret policy distributed to all employees upon hiring.
Educating new hires on the significance of safeguarding confidential information and the potential consequences of trade secret misappropriation.
Twitter’s threat to sue Meta over alleged misuse of trade secrets underscores the importance of businesses protecting their confidential information. This can be done through non-disclosure agreements, employee training, and secure data practices. Trade secret law can provide legal recourse if confidential information is stolen.
With the rise of technology and increased workforce mobility, trade secrets are more vulnerable than ever. Twitter’s recent threat of a trade secret lawsuit serves as a reminder of their importance and the need for businesses to take steps to protect them. For more information about what trade secrets are, the latest developments in trade secret law, and how to develop a comprehensive protection plan for protecting your company’s trade secrets and confidential information, contact Michigan attorney Jason M. Shinn.