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To Protect Trade Secrets, Companies Must get Smart About Smart Phones

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8 Nevada Lawyer May 2014
Thanks to technological advances in the last decade,
virtually every person who walks through a company’s front
door is now armed with at least one smart phone, tablet or
similar device. Thanks to Google Glass, voice-enabled (and
web-linked) computers can now be mounted on a pair of
glasses. Whether it is a company’s customers, employees or
visitors, most everyone has a way of instantly communicating
– and transmitting – with the touch of a screen or a voice
While smart phones are an essential part of daily business,
they also present ever-changing challenges to the protection of
trade secrets. Consider the following scenarios:
Instant Photo and Video Capture:
An employee, seeking to exact revenge after a poor
performance review, uses his or her personal
smart phone to take photographs of highly
confdential blueprints, product marketing
plans or other sensitive data, which a
co-worker left at his or her desk. That
employee now has a shareable
record of the company’s trade
secrets, and the company may
have diffculty tracing how
the employee accessed and
recorded this information.
Thanks to Apple’s iPhone user
interface, through which the camera
feature is available without unlocking the
phone itself, this theft could be accomplished in a
matter of seconds.
Social Media:
A utility repairman overhears two employees
discussing concepts for the company’s next-
generation products. On the way back to his work
truck, he tweets the details for the world to see.
Voice Record:
Using the smart phone’s built-in voice recording
application, a mid-level employee of a company’s
business partner, who may or may not be aware of
Smart phones have changed the way that
business is done. Today, property can be sold
and contracts can be entered into with digital
signatures scrawled across a smart phone
touch screen. Companies have come to expect
real-time communications with employees,
vendors and business partners, all of whom
are able to (and often do) check e-mail and
voicemail around the clock. In short, smart
phones are ubiquitous in business.
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May 2014 Nevada Lawyer 9
the terms of the companies’ mutual non-disclosure
agreement, records a confdential planning meeting
without anyone noticing. While this individual would
need each party’s consent to record such a conversation
via telephone, the mere act of recording an in-person
conversation may not, in and of itself, be unlawful. See
NRS 200.650.
Regardless of whether a company is building unmanned
aircraft, inventing new clean energy technologies, storing third-
party data, developing the latest online gaming trend or engaging
in virtually any other Nevada industry, every business can beneft
from an analysis of the risks that smart phones present and how
the company’s policies and practices can be adapted to mitigate
those risks.
Trade Secrets Are Only Trade Secrets If
Companies Diligently Protect Them
If a company’s trade secrets are stolen or threatened with
theft, Nevada’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which can be found
in NRS Chapter 600A, enables the company to obtain immediate
injunctive relief upon a showing of the following two elements:
First, that the misappropriated information is likely a trade secret;
and second, that such misappropriation will likely result in
irreparable harm. NRS 600A.040(1); Saini v. IGT, 434 F.Supp.2d
913, 919 (D.Nev. 2006).
However, the determination of whether information qualifes
as a trade secret depends on factors that are established long
before the misappropriation occurs. Since trade secrets are
defned as including only that information deriving value from
not being generally known to the public and which is “the subject
of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain
its secrecy” (NRS 600A.030(5)), the measures that companies
take to protect their trade secrets before the theft occurs are a
critical component of enabling a company to obtain injunctive
relief once such data is stolen.
Courts often require companies seeking relief for trade
secret misappropriation to demonstrate that they exercised eternal
vigilance in protecting the information at issue. Fail-Safe, LLC
v. A.O. Smith Corp., 674 F.3d 889, 893 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal
citations omitted); see also Finkel v. Cashman Prof’l, Inc., 128
Nev. Adv. Op. 6, 270 P.3d 1259, 1264 (2012), reh’g denied
(Apr. 27, 2012) (upon a claim of trade secret misappropriation,
courts assess factors including the extent and manner in which the
employer guarded the secrecy of the information). What measures
are reasonable under the circumstances will vary depending on
factors including the size and nature of the company involved,
the data the company is trying to protect, how that data is stored
and the limits the company places on disclosure of its sensitive
information. Companies that fail to update their confdentiality
policies and practices to remain current with technological
continued on page 10
10 Nevada Lawyer May 2014
advances may, under certain circumstances, be deemed to have
failed to exercise the requisite vigilance and forfeited trade secret
protection that might otherwise apply.
Designing Strategies
for Protecting Trade
Secrets Against Modern
Technological Threats
In light of these risks, companies should
evaluate – on an annual or other periodic
basis – their confdentiality policies and
practices to ensure that they represent state-
of-the-art protections against modern threats
to corporate data. Among other things,
companies should consider the following.
• Identify the Core Trade Secrets
and Then Limit Opportunities
for Access: In any business, there are varying levels
of sensitive data. By identifying the company’s most
sensitive data and periodically re-assessing this issue,
companies can implement additional safeguards to protect
this data, such as storing the data on a separate server,
creating separate passwords to access
such servers, and/or limiting access to
portions of the company’s premises where
such information is stored. See United
States v. Chung, 659 F.3d 815, 825-26
(9th Cir. 2011) (“[R]easonable measures
for maintaining secrecy ‘have been held
to include advising employees of the
existence of a trade secret, limiting access
to a trade secret on [a] ‘need to know
basis’, and controlling plant access.’”)
(internal citations omitted).
• Implement Premises Security
Measures to Avoid Unintended
Exposure to Trade Secrets: Companies
should consider involving their on-site
security personnel in efforts to protect trade secrets.
Careful coordination can enable security to identify
individuals who are accessing sensitive areas of
the company’s facilities without authorization –
including individuals who may be carrying smart
phones or other data-transmission devices.
• Imposing Limitations on When and How Smart
Phones Can Be Accessed: Companies should
give careful consideration as to whether there are
portions of their facilities that are so sensitive that
even employees with proper access authorization
should not be permitted to bring smart phones
into such areas. Once these decisions are made,
companies should consider posting notices to
employees and visitors, and revising employment
policies to clarify not only where smart phones
may be used, but also any smart phone capabilities
(e.g., audio recording) that are prohibited under
certain circumstances. Prior to implementing any
such policies, however, companies should consult
with counsel experienced in employment matters
to ensure that they do not run afoul of employees’
right to engage in protected concerted activities,
as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act
• Strengthen Contractual Protections to Address
Smart Phone Usage: Where appropriate,
companies may also want to consider revising
nondisclosure agreements to put corporate
business partners on notice of appropriate and
inappropriate use of technology during confdential
business dealings.
ABOUT SMART PHONES continued from page 9
Companies should give
careful consideration as to
whether there are portions
of their facilities that are
so sensitive that even
employees with proper
access authorization
should not be permitted
to bring smart phones into
such areas.
May 2014 Nevada Lawyer 11
• Label Data “Confdential” Before Someone Posts it
Online: Companies should advise employees as to how
and when to label documents as confdential. Through
consistent labeling of sensitive data, companies may
be able to establish that the data at issue constitutes a
protectable trade secret – even where (a) the company’s
other efforts to protect trade secrets may be found
to be insuffcient to address smart phones and other
technological threats to trade secret protection and/or
(b) company data is later stolen and published without
the company’s consent. See NRS 600A.032; V’Guara
Inc. v. Dec, 925 F. Supp. 2d 1120, 1124 (D. Nev. 2013)
(noting the rebuttable presumption that can be created
where companies properly label sensitive documents);
NRS 600A.055 (where companies adequately protect
trade secrets, injunctive relief is available to preserve trade
secret status of the data at issue and require that such trade
secrets be removed from the internet).
• IT and Human Resource Strategies for Detecting and
Responding to Theft: Companies should consider training
their IT and Human Resources personnel, among others,
to identify and address suspicious use of technology –
especially in sensitive portions of company facilities. For
example, strategic use of computer forensic tools can
enable IT personnel to identify and respond to indications
of potential theft. Company Human Resources partners can
also play a key role in detecting potential theft, including
through well-designed initial hire procedures (e.g., up-to-
date confdentiality and invention assignment agreements)
and exit interview protocol.
Finally, if and when potential data theft is discovered,
companies should immediately consult with counsel
experienced in trade secret and employment litigation to ensure
that the company is best positioned to pursue all available
remedies and relief.
SHANNON S. PIERCE practices in employment,
trade secret and commercial litigation with
Fennemore Craig Jones Vargas, a leading
southwest regional business law frm serving
clients in the southwest. Pierce can be reached at
(775) 788-2200 or
MATTHEW P. DIGESTI practices in business
and torts litigation with Fennemore Craig Jones
Vargas. Digesti can be reached at (775) 788-2200

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