How Persistence and Storytelling Helped Secure a Federal Preliminary Injunction to Protect Trade Secrets
Facts are paramount in any case, but how they are leveraged is what wins cases. While technology is second nature to us, in litigation, we also craft stories that make judges and juries understand the facts, the technology and care about our clients.
That’s exactly what we did when representing The Systems Group. The family-owned company designs, develops and provides equipment for cooling industrial furnaces used for making steel. The Systems Group’s Spray-Cooled™ technology is a safer alternative to traditional pressurized water-cooling.
The Systems Group is the only supplier of spray cooling technology for the steel industry, so when an executive and an employee left the company, established a competing business, and attempted to poach The Systems Group’s biggest client, The Systems Group believed the ex-employees had taken and used trade secrets and other proprietary information.
Thorough and fast: Leaving no stone unturned
After an investigation, we formulated a strategic response and quickly filed suit for trade secret misappropriation and breach of employment contract. In addition to immersing ourselves in the underlying technology and business practices of this industry sector, we quickly determined that the underlying facts didn’t tell the whole story. When the data wasn’t adding up, we didn’t settle for the defendants’ mysterious explanations.
By persistently pursuing evidence and calling upon a computer forensic expert, we were able to solve the data “mystery”: the defendants had destroyed evidence.
Painting a compelling portrait of injustice
We put three witnesses on at the bench trial — The Systems Group CEO, the industry expert, and a forensic computer expert — and cross-examined the defendants.
Through these witnesses, we established that:
- The Systems Group had developed trade secrets and proprietary information that were not generally known
- The Systems Group protected the trade secrets and proprietary information
- The trade secrets and proprietary information could not be duplicated without monumental engineering effort and inside knowledge
We also established that defendants were in possession of and had used the trade secrets and proprietary information in competing with The Systems Group. Based on our forensic investigation, we obtained from the Court an adverse inference that the defendants had misappropriated The Systems Groups’ trade secrets and proprietary information because of the defendants’ intentional destruction of evidence.
In addition to supporting the legal requirements, however, we told our client’s unique story, including the energy and hard work that went into developing the technology and the business. We illustrated how this family’s 50-year-old business was lawfully built on hard work and ingenuity, and how it had been damaged by the ex-employees’ actions.
Our efforts culminated when we secured a preliminary injunction — which is rarely granted in federal court. The injunction forced the defendants to stop using Systems’ trade secrets and forbid the defendants from “using design drawings and internal pricing worksheets to design and supply low pressure, spray-cooling equipment for the steel industry.”
Securing a rock-solid consent decree
Eventually, the defendants agreed to a consent judgment and injunction that barred them from competing using spray-cooled technology for six years, with few exceptions. This agreement was broader than the preliminary injunction and, because it was a public, enforceable court order signed by the judge, it carried more power and authority than a settlement agreement.
“You always need to understand the facts and the technology to back everything up, but the way you ultimately win the jury and the judge is with the story,” said Patterson + Sheridan partner and lead counsel Jayme Partridge. “At the end of the day, every case is about people and their stories — that’s our focus.”