A California jury recently concluded that an inventor timely filed a trade secret lawsuit against Uber seeking $1 billion in damages. The inventor’s lawsuit claims that Uber and its founder stole his business concept, which the inventor alleges he shared sometime in 2006 under a promise that Uber’s founder would keep the concept confidential. Around four years later, Uber launched its now popular ride-sharing application, yet the inventor claimed he did not learn about the Uber founder’s involvement with it until several years later.
The California trial addressed only the discrete issue of the timeliness of the inventor’s lawsuit. Uber and its founder argued that had the inventor engaged in a reasonable investigation into Uber in 2010, he would have learned about its founder’s involvement. In contrast, the inventor claimed, among other things, that when he researched Uber—then known as UberCab—online in 2010, its website did not list the founder as a team member.
This case illustrates the importance of timely investigating potential misconduct related to the theft of information, i.e. misconduct which perpetrators often go to great lengths to hide. The period to bring a misappropriation claim can—at least under some circumstances—be lengthened when a victim is unaware of misconduct and that ignorance is excusable. In short, at the very least, trade secret plaintiffs must engage is a “reasonable inquiry” to determine whether wrongful conduct has taken place. What is “reasonable” under the circumstances is a fact-intensive inquiry that—as the Uber case demonstrates—might even require its own trial.