Archive for June, 2015
By Richard Stobbe
Apparently Google does not appreciate being ordered by a Canadian court to remove worldwide search results. In Update on Injunction Against Google (Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc.) we reviewed a 2014 decision in which Google was ordered to de-index certain offending websites which were selling goods that were the subject of an intellectual property (IP) infringement claim (that decision was Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack, 2014 BCSC 1063 (CanLII)). Google appealed that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Last week, in Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Google Inc., 2015 BCCA 265, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the original order.
In the underlying action, Equustek alleged that Mr. Jack and Datalink Technologies designed and sold product which infringed the IP rights of Equustek. The original lawsuit was based on trademark infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. Equustek successfully obtained injunctions prohibiting this original infringement. The infringement, however, continued through a variety of websites, and relying on search engines (such as Google) to attract customers. Equustek obtained another injunction prohibiting Google (“the world’s most popular search engine” – those are the court’s words) from delivering search results which directed customers to the offending websites.
Google appealed, arguing that this injunction was overreaching since it was beyond the Canadian court’s jurisdiction. After all, Google has no employees, business offices, or servers within British Columbia. The appeal court observed that Google’s “activities in gathering data through web crawling software, in distributing targeted advertising to users in British Columbia, and in selling advertising to British Columbia businesses are sufficient to uphold the chambers judge’s finding that it does business in the Province.” The court, therefore, was entitled to assert jurisdiction over Google even though it was not a party to the underlying litigation. Put another way, “the underlying litigation clearly has a “real and substantial connection” to British Columbia. Equally, Google’s services, which provide a link between the defendant’s products and potential customers, are substantially connected to the substance of the lawsuit.”
The court drew a parallel with a recent English case, Cartier International AG v. British Sky Broadcasting Limited,  EWHC 3354 (Ch.), where Cartier sought an injunction against a number of ISPs in the UK in order to block access to the offending websites which sold counterfeit Cartier products. The court granted the order in that case.
The B.C. court rejected a creative free-speech argument (the argument that the injunction may have the effect of stifling freedom of expression from the blocked websites). (“There is no evidence that the websites in question have ever been used for lawful purposes, nor is there any reason to believe that the domain names are in any way uniquely suitable for any sort of expression other than the marketing of the illegal product.”)
The court also gave short shrift to the argument that the injunction should be restricted to “Canadian” results from google.ca as opposed to an injunction with worldwide effect (“…an order limited to the google.ca search site would not be effective.”)
If Google successfully appeals this decision, it will undoubtedly attract even more intervenors and will provide an opportunity for Canada’s top court to clarify the law in this area.
Need assistance with intellectual property disputes and internet law? Get advice from experienced counsel.
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By Richard Stobbe
Wondering about outsourcing your data to the U.S.? What follows is an update to one of our most popular posts: Outsourcing by Canadian Companies: Another Look at the USA PATRIOT Act, originally written in January 2013.
In that post, we discussed the concern that U.S. government authorities may use the provisions of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (“PATRIOT Act”) to access the personal information of Canadians where that information is stored in the United States in the context of outsourcing or cloud-computing.
We also noted that for private sector businesses there are no specific legal prohibitions on outsourcing to the United States in light of the PATRIOT Act, provided (1) reasonable safeguards are built into the outsource contract (including confidentiality, use-restrictions, security, and provisions to meet monitoring and audit requirements), and (2) customers are notified in a clear way when their personal information will be stored or handled outside Canada. The only exceptions to this are within the public sector, as reviewed in our earlier post.
What Has Changed and What Remains the Same
This is a complicated area of law. Starting in June 2013, Edward Snowden’s revelations about N.S.A.’s pervasive warrantless surveillance programs triggered a broader debate about privacy, as well as the specific risks of outsourcing to U.S. companies.
Certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act expired under a sunset clause on June 1, 2015. The U.S. Congress passed the USA FREEDOM Act on June 2, 2015 (in keeping with the American penchant for legislative acronyms, the full name is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act“).
The USA FREEDOM Act restores many of the expired provisions of the PATRIOT Act through 2019. Some provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act will expire in 2017 (including Section 702, a provision which underpins some of the N.S.A.’s bulk surveillance of online communications). Under the FREEDOM Act, certain sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 were amended in an effort to delimit the NSA’s mass data collection programs. However, the restrictions on bulk data collection don’t take effect for 6 months after the USA FREEDOM Act is enacted. There is also a carve-out to permit the government to obtain FISA orders during this 180-day period. The effect of this is unclear, but commentators have speculated that during this 6-month grace period the N.S.A. can continue bulk collection, and obtain FISA orders which are not constrained by the requirement for a “selection term”.
Furthermore, bulk collection of phone data is not necessarily coming to an end – arguably, it is merely being delegated to the telecoms: “The Freedom Act does take the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records out of the hands of the National Security Agency and leaves those records with the phone companies; it sets up procedures for the NSA to get access to those records when it wants to.”
The new law does introduce reforms for oversight of government surveillance. In a nod to transparency, some FISA Court opinions may become available, and technology companies will have the ability to publicly report the number of government surveillance requests or investigation inquiries they receive. Previously, companies were prohibited from reporting that such requests had been received.
Generally, under the FREEDOM Act, indiscriminate bulk data collection is to be reformed by requiring the use of “specific selection terms”. In other words, government agencies such as the NSA must use a search term – the name of a specific person, account, address, or personal device, or any other specific identifier – to limit the scope of data collection “to the greatest extent reasonably practicable”.
In 2004, after the initial flurry of anxiety about US government surveillance under the PATRIOT Act, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada noted: “The [PATRIOT] Act is simply one example of a law that can give the United States government or its agencies access to personal information about Canadians that has been transferred to the United States. Research done by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and discussions with the Department of Justice suggest that the USA PATRIOT Act is not likely in the normal course of events to be used to obtain personal information held in the United States about Canadians.” (Emphasis added)
In light of the 2013 Snowden revelations (and the 2007 Mark Klein disclosures), we now know that, in fact, the bulk collection of phone and internet data by the N.S.A. would have resulted in a lot of personal information about Canadians being collected by the N.S.A. in the United States through the N.S.A.’s PRISM, ECHELON and related surveillance programs.
Data access by Canadian or American government authorities in the course of investigations is not new. Don’t forget that the PATRIOT Act itself was merely an amendment and expansion to a series of existing government investigation tools which were already part of U.S. law, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Money Laundering Control Act and the Bank Secrecy Act. Going back even further, NSA’s cooperation and information-sharing with Canadian security agencies actually dates to the 1940s (see: the UK-USA Agreement). However, the sheer scope, breadth and depth of surveillance was new.
The Americans are not the only ones who carry on surveillance. There are a number of Canadian laws that enable police, security agencies and government investigators to obtain access to information held in Canada in the course of an investigation. And as in the U.S., Canadian security agencies have also been caught exceeding the legal limits on their online surveillance (see X (Re), 2013 FC 1275; aff’d 2014 FCA 249, where the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal decided that CSIS breached the duty of candour owing to the Court in seeking and obtaining search warrants fro surveillance on Canadians outside Canada).
Canadian police and security agencies can also obtain information held in the U.S., just as American security agencies can obtain records held in Canada through information-sharing agreements, protocols and a bilateral treaty between the United States and Canada known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (the “MLAT”). Other countries have similar investigative powers.
While the Americans are making some modest reforms to their surveillance laws, Canadian authorities are actually expanding their reach; the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (Bill C-51) was passed on June 9, 2015, and is awaiting royal assent. This new law expands the information-gathering powers between CSIS, police investigators and other Canadian government agencies.
Further, the effect of so-called “boomerang routing” means that online information flowing between a Canadian sender and Canadian recipient is still often routed through the US. (See: IXMaps.ca) Thus, even where data is not physically stored in the US, it may be caught by ongoing N.S.A. surveillance at the point the data traverses through an internet exchange point located within the United States.
As a matter of risk-assessment for Canadian companies outsourcing data to cloud-computing service providers, should you be concerned that your (or your customers’) Canadian online data will be subject to access by the U.S. government?
1. We know that for Canadian private sector businesses there are still no legal prohibitions against outsourcing data to the United States (note that the public sector is treated differently);
2. Best practices still dictate that (a) reasonable safeguards should be built into the outsource contract (including confidentiality, use-restrictions, security, and provisions to meet monitoring and audit requirements), and (b) customers should notified in a clear way when their personal information will be stored or handled outside Canada.
3. There can be no doubt that surveillance practices under the (old) PATRIOT Act resulted in the mass indiscriminate collection of internet and phone data for many years (and very likely continues within the 6-month period after enactment of the FREEDOM Act). It appears very likely that Canadian data outsourced to the U.S. was subject to bulk collection by the N.S.A. Due to “boomerang routing”, it appears likely that even data stored on servers located within Canada often flows through internet exchange locations within the U.S., and therefore would be susceptible to bulk collection by the N.S.A. The USA FREEDOM Act (which is really the PATRIOT Act 2.0) does impose some mild but important reforms on the scope of N.S.A. surveillance. If bulk data and phone-record collection is actually curtailed, the ongoing risk is associated with “targeted” or “selection term” access, in situations where government security and law enforcement agencies exercise rights of accessing and monitoring online data in the course of investigations of a “specific person, account, address, or personal device” in the U.S. It is worth noting that this ongoing risk of access is similar on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border, since Canadian security and law enforcement agencies have similar powers of investigation, and the two governments can rely on MLAT requests and other information sharing protocols to share data.
When you weigh the issues and risks associated with outsourcing Canadian data to the U.S., consider these points and seek advice from experienced IT and privacy counsel.
Further reading: Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era.
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By Richard Stobbe
A few weeks ago, Jawbone, a fitness tracking hardware and software maker, sued its arch-rival Fitbit, alleging that Fitbit lured its employees away to obtain access Jawbone’s confidential information and product plans. How would this play out in Canada? In our earlier post (Competing After Employment (Part 1)) we considered a case in which the employer could not describe the confidential information with enough specificity and detail, and the employer was unable to get its injunction form the court.
In Brandt Engineering Products Ltd v Rockford Engineering Works Ltd., 2014 SKQB 339 (CanLII), the employer enjoyed a different result.
After several employees left BEPL to join a competitor, BEPL sued its competitor alleging that the former employees of BEPL each breached their fiduciary duties, breached confidence, and breached their employment contracts, among other things. BEPL sought an injunction to prevent the use of confidential information by the ex-employees and their new employer.
The court noted that “each of these individuals were either professionals or they were engaged in doing, assisting or supporting the work of the professional/design team at BEPL. I am satisfied from the evidence that each of them would have been aware of the confidential and proprietary nature of the designs, processes, customer and supplier lists and generally and specifically financial, organizational and technical information respecting BEPL and its operations. Whether by virtue of their employment contracts, their status as professionals, the confidentiality and proprietary notices which much of BEPL’s documentation contained, or the role that each of the individual defendants played as members of the design group at BEPL, each could not help but be aware of and recognize the confidential and proprietary nature and character of much of the information to which they had access and were privy.” (Emphasis added)
It was discovered during the course of the lawsuit that the ex-employees had downloaded or removed various confidential documents (“approximately 9,713 documents” burned onto discs and a “banker’s box of BEPL materials”) and provided some of this information to the new employer, BEPL’s competitor.
The court granted the injunction restricting the ex-employees and their new employer from using confidential information and upholding the non-solicitation covenants. The court made a few important points which bear repeating:
1. “Where employees have a non-competition clause in their contract of employment or they are determined to be employees having fiduciary obligations – the employee has a continuing duty to maintain confidences for a reasonable period of time and the employee is not permitted to actively solicit the former employer’s customers nor to use confidential information to the employee’s own employment advantage…”
2. “An interim injunction should not issue for the sole purpose of eliminating competition or effectively reducing it. In cases such as this, the purpose of the injunction is to constrain improper competition — that is to say the use or potential use by former employees of confidential and proprietary information, the property of and acquired from a previous employer to whom the employees owe a fiduciary duty of confidentiality, to compete with that employer.”
3. It is also worth noting that:
– the terms of the employment agreements as well as internal confidentiality notices helped bolster the argument that these ex-employees were aware of their confidentiality obligations, and
– the evidence of misappropriation of specific documents avoided the problem in the JTT Electronics case regarding the need to describe the confidential information with enough specificity and detail.
In summary, this case succeeded in enjoining improper competition by departing employees. Get advice on departing employees, restrictive covenants and intellectual property protection from experienced counsel.
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By Richard Stobbe
A startup in the oil-and-gas service sector sought to improve downhole well stimulation technology. After a few years, differences between the three founders culminated in the ouster of Mr. Groves, one of the founders. Mr. Groves was removed as President and then his employment was terminated. The company had, during those few years, filed for patent protection on a number of inventions which were invented by Mr. Groves. After his termination, he promptly sued his former employer based on a claim of ownership of those inventions which were created during the course of his employment.
In the recent decision in Groves v Canasonics Inc., 2015 ABQB 314 (CanLII), the court noted that the employment agreement between Mr. Groves and Canasonics included the following condition:
“The Company shall own any and all Copyright and Intellectual Property created in the course of Employment. Further, in the event there is a period when the Employee might be considered an independent contractor, all Copyright created and any Intellectual Property created shall be owned by the Company.” The Court had no trouble in concluding that the inventions were patented in the U.S. and Canada by their inventor, Mr. Groves in his capacity as an employee, who then assigned the inventions to Canasonics as the employer pursuant to terms of the employment agreement.
The lesson for business in any industry is clear: ensure that your employment agreements – and by extension, independent contractor and consulting agreements – are clear. Intellectual property and ownership of inventions should be clearly addressed. Get advice from experienced counsel to ensure that the IP legal issues are covered – including confidentiality, consideration, invention ownership, IP assignment, non-competition and non-solicitation.
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By Richard Stobbe
Let’s say you provide web-based software in a SaaS subscription model. What if your reseller or strategic business partner works against you to redesign and reverse engineer your software so they can launch a competing product?
This is what happened to Warehouse Solutions (WSI) in the recent U.S. case Warehouse Solutions, Inc. v. Integrated Logistics, LLC (May 8, 2015, Fed. CA 11th Cir.). WSI developed and sold a web-based software product known as “Intelligent Audit” which interfaced with UPS and FedEx tracking systems to allow companies to track and manage packages. Integrated acted as a reseller of “Intelligent Audit”, but was also a competitor to WSI, in the sense that Integrated sold its own package-tracking software. The reseller relationship between WSI and Integrated, however, was never documented in a written agreement. The parties had verbal discussions about the confidential and proprietary nature of the “Intelligent Audit” software.
Although Integrated never had access to the source code for “Intelligent Audit”, it had high level administrator access rights to the software, and therefore had much broader insight into the features, functionality and structure of the software, compared to the typical end-user.
On the side, unknown to WSI, Integrated developed its own web-based package-tracking software product that was visually and functionally similar to “Intelligent Audit”. Integrated even went so far as to give its own software developer access to “Intelligent Audit”. Eventually, Integrated dropped “Intelligent Audit” and began selling its own competing product under the ShipLink brand name.
WSI then sued Integrated for reverse engineering and copying its software, and through various court proceedings, the claims came down to the issue of trade secrets. The court drew a distinction between a software program’s underlying source code, which may be a trade secret, and the program’s “look and feel” and “functionality,” which cannot be protected as a trade secret, since these features are readily apparent to any user. Since WSI did not enter into a written confidentiality agreement with Integrated, the trade secret claim failed, and WSI’s claim was dismissed.
Lessons for business?
1. It’s worth noting that this case turns largely on U.S. concepts of “trade secret” protection under the Trade Secrets Act, and there is no equivalent legislation in Canada. Canadian software vendors are frequently bound by local U.S. laws in their dealings with American customers, resellers and strategic partners, so this case is an important one for Canadian SaaS providers, even though it involves U.S. law.
2. There are situations – such as in AirWatch, LLC v. Mobile Iron, Inc., (Unpublished) No. 1:12-cv-3571 (N.D. Ga. Sept. 4, 2013) – where a software licensor can protect its software as a trade secret, where it uses written agreements to clearly preserve the secrecy of the program’s functions and specifications.
3. Overall, the message for software vendors and SaaS providers is that clear written agreements will always be preferable to handshake deals and verbal warnings about confidentiality.
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