INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION IN THE FOOD SYSTEM: DON’T FORGET THE NDA (By Alan Haus, Royse Law, USA , April 2016)
The article in our Winter issue titled, “Have You Copyrighted Your Trademarks?” addressed trademark and copyright protections for brands in the food system. We thus know that with a bit of effort, there is a lot of protection available from brand protection. But how does one protect the contents of the proverbial secret sauce or other valuable information? That is more challenging, but the short answer is to make careful use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). The recent experience of the Pine Valley food company in litigation against the Ajinomoto food companies illustrates.
NDAs Are Usually Essential Under Trade Secrets Law
Pine Valley was a tiny company that had hit a business jackpot: in the late 1990s Trader Joe’s decided to purchase its various fried rice products. Pine Valley outsourced the preparation, packaging and shipping of the products to another company. All of that worked very well for more than a dozen years.
During that time the packaging company was acquired by Ajinomoto, an international food conglomerate. After a series of mergers over a period of years, Ajinomoto decided to undertake an end run around Pine Valley. Ajinomoto’s end run was successful in that it convinced Trader Joe’s to deal directly with Ajinomoto, and Trader Joe’s stopped doing any business with Pine Valley.
Pine Valley brought suit against Ajinomoto, and in January it won a multimillion dollar verdict (the exact amount is still being determined) in a trial in Los Angeles. Pine Valley asserted a half-dozen legal claims, including things like Unfair Competition. The lynchpin of its case, however, seems to have been that it had in place from the very beginning a Non-Disclosure Agreement with the original packaging company, to which Ajinomoto was bound as a successor ...Zum vollständigen Artikel