If you work for a company for a few years and maintain your LinkedIn account, you will build up a set of contacts based on your employment. What happens if those contacts are customers? Do they belong to you or to your employer? That was the issue in Cellular Accessories for Less, Inc. v. Trinitas, 2014 WL 4627090 (C.D. Calif. 9/16/2014). David Oakes worked for Cellular Accessories for several years. He built up a lengthy list of contacts on his Linkedin account. Many of those contacts were his customers. He was fired. After his termination, he maintained his same Linkedin account. When he was first hired, he signed a confidentiality agreement, in which he agreed to not use or disclose confidential property belonging to the company. Mr. Oakes took with him his ACT list. That list derived from his list of Linkedin contacts. Later, he started his own company, known as Trinitas. Trinitas competed directly with Cellular Accessories for corporate mobile phone accounts.
Cellular Accessories sued Mr. Oakes for violating his agreement. Both parties submitted dueling motions for summary judgment.
California has a trade secret law that protects confidential information if it is difficult to produce or develop. Texas has an equivalent statute. See Tex.Civ.Pra.&Rem.C. Sec. 134A.002. The Texas statute requires that for such information to be protected, it must be both valuable and secret. It is hard to argue that information on a Linkedin account is secret.
In reviewing the two motions for summary judgment, the court looked at the ACT list. Much of that list derived from his Linkedin list of contacts. The parties disputed whether the information on the ACT list was difficult to develop. Mr. Oakes said it was all publicly available information and could be easily reproduced. Oakes also said that Linkedin suggested new contacts to him, which names would later be added to his ACT list. The court was concerned that the ACT list was perhaps not so easily developed.
Mr. Oakes reponded that any of his contacts could view his contact list on Linkedin. It is readily available. So, it is not secret or confidential. On the other hand, some of the information on the ACT list included buying preferences of some customers is confidential. In the end, the court denied Cellular’s motion for summary judgment, finding there was substantial dispute of material fact. The court wisely let the jury decide this complicated fact situation. See the decision here.