A Texas federal trial court, finding the absence of any legal precedence to award an ongoing royalty in a trade secret misappropriation case, looked to the patent laws to impose an ongoing royalty. As a result, rather than permanently enjoining the misappropriator from continuing, the trial court imposed a royalty, thereby allowing the victim some compensation but allowing the other party to continue its activities. Sabatino Bianco MD v. Globus Medical Inc., 2014 WL 2980740 (ED Tx. 02 July 2014)(docket no.: 2:12-cv-00147)
Summary of the Case
Dr. Bianco designed certain spinal implants. The jury ruled that Globus misappropriated Dr. Bianco’s trade secrets and awarded damages. Dr. Bianco wanted disgorgement of Globus’ profits, but the jury instead awarded Dr. Bianco a 5% royalty as back-payment for the taken secrets. Dr. Bianco asked for, but was denied, a permanent injunction. Instead, the district court asked the parties to come up with some figure for the ongoing royalty percentage, which the judge determined to be 5% also. The judge said that the payment period would extend for 15 years.
Dr. Bianco asked for more than 5% (he asked for 6%) and Globus said it wasn’t going to pay anything in the future because the secrets were no longer secret and that the prior 5% back-payment was full compensation. Dr. Bianco said that the previous 5% was a floor and any new rate should necessarily be higher. Globus said that once the misappropriation was publicized and embodied in the actual spinal devices, nothing was a secret. Certainly there was no call for paying royalties over 15 years. Dr. Bianco asked for a higher rate to send warnings to other misappropriators that such behavior is not tolerated. The trial judge rejected both sides’ proposals.
The Court’s Rationales
First the court noted that in Texas, there is no state-based trade secret law covering the ongoing royalty situation. So the court unsurprisingly adopted patent law as the trial judge was in fact Judge William Bryson of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in designation in Texas.
The court then noted that in Texas, injunctions can continue longer than the period after which a secret becomes public. The court also noted that any increase in the rate cannot be for punitive or willful theft purposes because Texas law does not allow for punitive forward looking remedies and that any punitives were included in the back-payment royalty rate.
Furthermore, the court reasoned that in Texas, trade secret theft is a one-time event, hence the proper calculation would be on what the parties would hypothetically negotiate on the one-time event. In patent law, though, each infringement is a continuing tort.
Finally, the court rejected Dr. Bianco’s deterrent effect argument. The court noted that any deterrent effect is satisfied by the possibility that the court will not award any base damages or ongoing royalties but instead will order a full disgorgement.
This case teaches several aspects: (1) One should not assume that every trade secret theft can be remedied by automatic permanent injunction relief. Rather a court may allow the defendant to continue activities so long as it pays some royalty; (2) In your particular state, as here, there might be no case law precedent that sets the contours of the remedy, and hence, a court may borrow from another legal subject matter; (3) While we do not recommend any such action, this is an instance in which the misappropriation is allowed to continue, with a royalty payment. One could presume that there is still a significant financial benefit to the misappropriator in that it still makes money from its initial misappropriation; and (4) In the initial disclosure, though in confidence, of Dr. Bianco’s information to Globus, would the result have been different if the disclosure documents included Globus Medical’s agreement that it would be subject to permanent injunctive relief and disgorgement? Perhaps the disclosure documents could have included those statements.