A former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, Michael Bolsinger, sued the Houston Astros for trade secret misappropriation. He claims the Astros violated Texas trade secret law by stealing his team’s pitching signs in an August 2017 game.

Why it matters:

As an attorney who has handled trade secret matters for almost 20 years, this lawsuit is perplexing. But it does offer an overview for discussing the broad application trade secret protections have for a business and where trade secret protections can come up short in business.

The Details:

On August 4, 2017, Bolsinger only pitched a partial inning before giving up 4 runs. This would be the last inning he pitched in MLB.

It was later discovered that the Astros used a centerfield camera to steal the pitching signs of its opponents. Someone watching this camera feed would then relay to the batter the next pitch by banging a coded message on a garbage can.

According to Bolsinger’s lawsuit, the Astros decoded and stole the sign for essentially every pitch he threw on August 4. Bolstering this conclusion, 41% of Bolsinger’s pitches were preceded by trash can banging. After this disastrous inning, Bolsinger was cut by the Blue Jays.

In November 2019 news of this sign-stealing scheme broke and was later confirmed by MLB on January 13, 2020.

It is fitting a trashcan was integral to the Astros sign-stealing scheme because the whole plan was garbage. But the same can be also be said about Bolsinger’s trade secret lawsuit. Here is a copy of that complaint, Bolsinger v Houston Astros.

The Trade Secrete Claims – A swing and a miss!

Trade secret protection may extend to any information used in one’s business, and if it gives the owner an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.

But certain requirements must also be met to qualify as a trade secret. And here are two glaring reasons why Bolsinger’s claim over pitching signals is not likely to be successful:

  • Trade secrets – As the name suggests, secrecy is important. In fact, to have a valid trade secret requires reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy from others. But a pitcher’s signs come from a catcher. So those signs can be readily observable by an opposing player on second-base or anyone in the stands with a view of the catcher.
  • Ownership – Another trade secret requirement is ownership. To the extent pitching signals are “owned,” that ownership would be with the team – not the pitcher.

These are just “two strikes” against Bolsinger’s trade secret complaint, but there are more. As such, it is hard to see how the lawsuit will be any more successful than the disastrous pitching outing that was that gave rise to this lawsuit.

Use this link to contact Michigan attorney Jason Shinn if you have questions about this article. Since 2001, Mr. Shinn has represented companies and individuals concerning the issues discussed above and other employment matters under federal and Michigan employment laws.