On September 20, 2012, a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit was filed against rock star drummer Tommy Lee and his band Mötley Crüe in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Plaintiff Howard King alleges in his complaint that in 1991 he developed an idea and concept for a “Tommy Lee Loop Coaster.” The concept consists of a platform on wheels that follows a loop-shaped track. A drum set is attached to the wheeled platform and follows the track in a complete loop, allowing the drummer to play the drums upside down. Other drummers in rock bands have used similar stunts at live shows for many years.
King alleged that he disclosed the idea to Lee and Lee’s band in 1991, and subsequently received signed confidentiality agreements (which have been misplaced or lost) from Lee’s agents. King also alleged that he has since maintained the secrecy of his idea and only disclosed the idea as necessary to implement it.
King allegedly brought action against Lee and Mötley Crüe after he discovered that they were allegedly using his alleged drum set loop coaster idea for a worldwide concert tour in 2011. King alleges that the defendants disclosed the purported trade secret to another company, which made a similar loop coaster for use by the defendants at the concerts. He alleges that the idea is the centerpiece of many performances and was used in commercials and promotions for the band.
King alleges that he has suffered damages in excess of $400,000. King has asserted claims for trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, and breach of promise.
It will be interesting to see how the court deals with the absent confidentiality agreements, especially since the parties may have difficulty remembering the exact terms and provisions of any purported confidentiality obligations.
Additionally, while this case is still in its infancy, the plaintiff will likely have a very difficult time establishing that his alleged idea qualifies as a trade secret under California law, particularly demonstrating that the information provided derives independent economic value from not being generally known to others or to others who can obtain economic value from its secrecy and is subject of efforts that are reasonable to protect its secrecy.
While a separate idea theft claim may still be actionable under California law, to pursue such a claim, the plaintiff will need to demonstrate that the defendants voluntarily accepted the disclosure knowing the conditions on which it was tendered and that the defendants used his work. Defendants may also challenge the claim on the grounds of independent development, which constitutes a complete defense.
A response is not yet due to the complaint and defendants have yet to file their response. We will keep you posted on this entertaining case.