Intellectual property refers to creative works or inventions that have financial value. Examples of intellectual property include product inventions, artistic works, literary works, entertainment properties or characters, computer code, designs, names, and images, among many other items. Intellectual property can be protected by using patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which allow intellectual property creators to get proper protection, recognition, and/or commercial benefits from their inventions or imaginative works. Intellectual property protected by patents, copyrights, or trademarks do not require secrecy to retain value.

By contrast, trade secrets are a type of intellectual property that must be kept secret and/or confidential to retain value. Although trade secret information also has value separate from its secrecy, maintaining confidentiality of trade secret information is key to retaining its full value. Therefore, the owner of a trade secret must take appropriate legal steps to keep the information confidential and protected from theft or misappropriation. Measures used to protect trade secrets include non-disclosure agreements, non-compete agreements, strong security measures for physical assets, strong security measures for virtual assets, and strict controls over who has access to confidential information (e.g., employees, vendors, clients, etc.).

Improperly obtaining, using, or disclosing trade secrets may be considered an Unfair Business Practice and also may violate statutory measures that exist at the federal and state level for protecting trade secrets. At the federal level, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) provides the owner of trade secrets the right to sue in federal court and seek remedies for unlawful use or misappropriation of such trade secrets. At the state level, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) provides the owner of trade secrets the right to sue in state court and seek injunctive relief and damages arising from the misappropriation. Most states, including California, have adopted the UTSA in one form or another. The DTSA offers some remedies for trade secret protection that are not available under state law. There also are criminal statutes that govern access or use to trade secrets, including the Economic Espionage Act (EEA), the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and the Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (California Penal Code Section 502). Unfair business practices pertaining to trade secret theft or misappropriation can include industrial or commercial espionage, breach of contract, and violations of duties to maintain secrecy of trade secret information.

There is not an agency or central authority that enforces intellectual property disputes. Instead, in most cases, these matters must be enforced through civil litigation seeking damages and injunctive relief (such as a court order prohibiting further use).

Intellectual Property Litigation: How We Can Help

The intellectual property litigation attorneys at Payne & Fears have a broad range of experience in handling disputes and litigation involving intellectual property assets. From individuals to Fortune 100 companies, our clients rely on us to handle their intellectual property-related disputes, including:

Our attorneys have the experience, litigation and trial skills, and resources required to efficiently resolve complex intellectual property cases. We serve the intellectual property needs of clients in the digital technology, network security, telecommunications, finance, publishing, and healthcare fields, among others. In addition to providing critical legal support to emerging companies facing copyright, trademark, antitrust, and trade secret challenges, our attorneys also regularly counsel and represent established high technology companies throughout California on intellectual property and other technology-related issues.