When explaining to lay people what we do, trade secret practitioners often use the classic examples of the formula for Coca-Cola or KFC’s secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. Now, we can add as an illustration the nooks and crannies of Thomas’ English Muffins, as demonstrated by a case filed by Bimbo Bakeries (“BBakeries”) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. BBakeries, which sells a variety of different breads and baked goods, brought an action against Chris Botticella, a high-level BBakeries executive, on January 15, 2010. In the action, BBakeries is seeking, among other things, a preliminary injunction forbidding Botticella from commencing employment as an executive with Hostess Brands, a BBakeries competitor. The Honorable R. Barclay Surrick of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held a hearing on BBakeries’ motion on January 25, 2010. At present, he has not ruled on the motion.
Not unlike other major companies that have pursued an executive going to competitors, BBakeries is proceeding against Botticella on an inevitable disclosure theory. BBakeries’ claim is that Botticella’s knowledge of its trade secrets and confidential information is so thorough that he would inevitably use that information in his work for Hostess, thus violating a non-disclosure agreement with BBakeries and the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. In its motion and accompanying declarations, BBakeries alleges that Botticella is one of “less than ten people in the world with full knowledge of how to produce Thomas’ English Muffins, famous for their distinctive ‘nooks and crannies’ characteristics.” BBakeries also claims that Botticella knows the cost structure and strategies for most of its products, such as its “super premium breads.” All of this information would, according to BBakeries, give Hostess an improper competitive advantage. Finally, BBakeries asserts that Botticella concealed his intentions to move to Hostess, and then instructed his secretary to delete information from his hard drive.
As evidenced by the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law filed by Botticella on January 29, 2010, Botticella is making several counter-arguments, which include the following: (1) there is no evidence as to Botticella’s responsibilities for Hostess, including whether he will be working on its English muffins, so BBakeries cannot show that he would inevitably disclose confidential information; (2) Botticella did not look at confidential materials sent to him by BBakeries after signing an “Acknowledgment and Representation Form” with Hostess on December 7, 2009; (3) the materials that Botticella deleted from his hard drive were of a personal nature, although he did accidentally delete work files; and (4) Botticella used an external storage device to practice his computer skills.
Botticella also argues that the inevitable disclosure doctrine should not apply because BBakeries set forth his post-employment obligations in its agreement with him. That agreement included a non-disclosure covenant, but not a non-compete provision. Thus, Botticella posits, the agreement provides a contractual framework governing his post-BBakeries employment and that framework should trump the inevitable disclosure doctrine.