4 posts in this topic
The following excerpts are from B F Goodrich v Wohlgemoth case in which a young engineer named Donald Wohlgemuth who walked over from B. F. Goodrich to a competitor, International Latex, and then discovered, to his shock, that Goodrich objected. Brooks(Author of the book from which this text is copied) traces the story of how Goodrich dragged the young man into court to stop him sharing secrets of the space suit they were designing for Mercury astronauts. You will like it if you are related to Law or Engineering. Here is the case:
Donald Wolhgemoth worked his entire career in the ‘pressure space suit department’ at B F Goodrich and had risen through the ranks to be manager of this highly specialized department in charge of all research and development regarding space suits. In 1964, Wohlgemuth announced his resignation to go to work for International Latex Corporation in their space suit department, which was 14 years behind B F Goodrich in the development of this specialised technology.
B F Goodrich sued Wohlgemuth to protect its trade secrets. There was no evidence of actual misappropriation of any trade secrets although Wohlgemuth was reported to have said to fellow
employees that ‘loyalty and ethics had their price; insofar as he was concerned, International Latex was paying that price.’Based on this record, the court had no reservation granting injunctive relief to prevent the threatened misappropriation of trade secrets.
The court decreed ‘We have no doubt that an injunction may issue in a court of equity to prevent a future wrong although no right has yet been violated.’ Further, the court stated, ‘unless a restraining order is entered, Goodrich may suffer irreparable injury.’
The scenario now is that an employer seeking injunctive protection for his trade secrets prior to their disclosure has to allege that either the ex-employee actually intends to do so or that the type of work is such that he is subconsciously doing so.
The situationis such that the threat of misappropriation of trade secrets can be enjoined without regard to proof of actual misappropriation or the intent of the former employee. This is called the doctrine of 'inevitable disclosure'.
However, the judgement passed allowed Wohlgemuth to work for Latex in the Space Suit Department as long as he keeps trade secrets to himself. The reason I am posting this is one, that it is quite relevent to what we engineers do day to day and two, that the following arguments that were presented by the defense, which I really enjoyed.
“Usually it is not until there is evidence that the employee [who has changed jobs] has not lived up to his contract, expressed or implied, to maintain secrecy, that the former employer can take action. In the law of torts there is the maxim: Every dog has one free bite. A dog cannot be presumed to be vicious until he has proved that he is by biting someone. As with a dog, the former employer may have to wait for a former employee to commit some overt act before he can act.”