Saturday, December 17, 2005, 12/17/2005 10:31:00 PM

Minnesota Federal Court Rules in Former Employee's Favor in Trade Secrets Case

Ad Associates, Inc. v. Coast to Coast Classifieds, Inc., (D.Minn. Dec. 12, 2005), concerned a dispute between a classified advertising broker and its former employee who left to start a competitor. After a bench trial, the judge ruled that the former employee conducted herself appropriately when leaving. The departing employee "did not take any customer lists or contact information, marketing or pricing information, computer data, or financial information." Moreover, she was a 22-year at-will employee, without a written agreement, a non-compete, or a confidentiality agreement.

Plaintiff's trade secrets contentions came down to three items, all rejected by the judge. First, the court held that a list of fax numbers of publications removed upon defendant's resignation was not a trade secret since it was readily ascertainable from publicly-available sources. Second, customers whose names defendant "remembered" and then contacted did not qualify as trade secrets, particularly since plaintiff took no steps to protect them. Finally, so-called "customized publication groupings" undertaken by plaintiff were not trade secrets because that information was disseminated to potential customers in a company brochure.

All in all, the trade secrets claims were simply too thin too support a claim.

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