Intellectual Property & Trade Secret Protection
Intellectual Property Lawyers in Houston
Helping Clients in Texas Protect & Defend Trade Secrets
Trade secrets, trademarks and copyrights have considerable value and are vital to a businesses’ long-term success.
- Are you proactively protecting your intellectual property?
- When your intellectual property is infringed, do you know your options for remedies?
Establishing and enforcing binding legal agreements between your business and employees can protect confidential information, and provide recourse in the event that an agreement is violated or breached. Our legal team at Hendershot Cowart P.C. has been protecting and defending intellectual property and trade secrets since 1987. Managing Shareholder Trey Hendershot personally has more than 30 years of experience representing clients involved in intellectual property disputes.
On This Page:
- How Our Firm Can Help Protect Your Intellectual Property
- Defending Intellectual Property & IP Disputes
- What Is Considered a Trade Secret in Texas?
- How to Deal With Theft of Trade Secrets
- Take These Steps to Avoid Trade Secret Claims
Our business law firm has the knowledge of both Texas and federal law to confidently assert or defend your rights in any type of intellectual property dispute. Call (713) 909-7323or email usto set up a confidential consultation about your case.
Protecting Intellectual Property
Whether you are an entrepreneur, start-up, or an established business, proactive protection of intellectual property is vital to laying the groundwork for future success. Because every business is different and objectives unique, protecting the ideas or inventions which make your company unique, and which provide an economic benefit, will depend on the type of intellectual property you have.
Our firm help protect your intellectual property with:
- Non-compete agreements or non-solicitation agreements
- Confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements (NDA)
- Licensing or technology development agreements
- Trademark protection: Having a unique and identifiable name for your product or service can help prevent deception and consumer confusion. Our attorneys assist clients with trademark searches and applications in order to protect and define their company brand.
- Copyright protection: Copyrights provide protection for original works of authorship, including literary and artistic works. Although copyright protection begins when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression, filing for copyright protection makes it easier to enforce and defend a copyright in court.
- Work-for-hire agreements
Our intellectual property lawyers are experienced in assisting businesses and entrepreneurs with a full range of services related to intellectual property law, business formation, employment agreements, contracts, and litigation.
Defending Intellectual Property & IP Disputes
Our firm has extensive experience helping clients resolve, dispute or defend intellectual property matters including:
- Ownership issues when a business is dissolved, sold or undergoes major changes: When business partners decide to reorganize, close or address major changes to their business and relationships, deciding who owns what can be contentious. Even if partners seek to part amicably, disagreements can easily arise. We can help you assert your right to your fair share of trademarks, copyrights, patents and other forms of intellectual property - even if your partners have tried to misappropriate them in some way.
- Copyright, trademark or patent infringement: The rise of the Internet has led to sharp increases in the number of disputes about unauthorized use of protected property. Our business law attorneys represent companies that include a vast spectrum of sizes and industries. We know how to prosecute or defend against a claim and to determine which remedies to seek in infringement cases, as well as what types of damage claims are warranted.
- Trade secret violations: The Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act protects information that gives one company a competitive advantage over another. We represent both defendants and plaintiffs in cases involving alleged theft, misappropriation or unauthorized use of trade secrets.
- Non-compete agreements: Non-compete clauses or agreements that restrict an employee's ability to work for a competitor in a certain area for a specified period of time have become increasingly common in many industries. Our Houston non-compete lawyers are well-versed in the evolving nature of Texas' non-compete laws. We aggressively protect your interests whether you are accused of violating an agreement or you are seeking to enforce a non-compete agreement.
- Physician non-competes: Medical entities have special considerations when adding non-compete clauses to physician employment agreements. Specifically, non-competes must allow physicians to provide continuing acute care to prior patients, access relevant medical records, and must allow the physician to buy out their agreement if he or she chooses.
- Confidentiality agreements: Confidentiality agreements (also called nondisclosure agreements) arise in various commercial contexts, such as when two companies are considering entering into a licensing agreement or other joint venture. We represent clients seeking to enforce or challenge these agreements and are well-versed in temporary restraining orders, temporary injunctions and permanent injunctions.
- Non-soliciting personnel and clients: Your business is built on the strength of your team and your client base. It's important to protect your interests once an employee leaves-whether it means protecting your customers or protecting your staff from being wooed away or keeping former partners from attempting to bring clients with them after a relationship is terminated.
- Non-solicitation for physicians: These agreements protect hospitals from losing patients or staff to physicians who leave or begin their own practice. Like non-competes, these have special considerations for physicians who provide acute care.
In any intellectual property infringement suit, immediate action is essential. If applicable, our experienced business attorneys seek a temporary restraining order or injunction to stop the infringement from occurring before pursuing other legal actions.
What Is Considered a Trade Secret in Texas?
Trade secrets are a vital part of a business’s success. As such, there are laws in place to protect that information. In Texas, trade secrets are protected by the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA).
According to TUTSA, a trade secret is any information that:
- Has either actual or potential independent economic value derived from its secrecy,
- Has value to others who cannot readily or legitimately ascertain the information, and
- Is subjected by the owner to reasonable measures to keep the information secret.
It’s important to know that all three elements are required for the information to be considered a trade secret. For example, if an employer has not made reasonable efforts to protect its business plan, that plan is not a trade secret. If a client list can be ascertained through a simple Google search, it is public domain and not a trade secret.
How to Deal With Theft of Trade Secrets
There are multiple ways to deal with theft of trade secrets. The Texas Uniform Trade Secret Act (TUTSA) provides for injunctive relief and other remedies, including monetary damages, in the effort to deal with theft or ongoing misappropriation of trade secrets. Texas law also imposes a fiduciary duty on employees not to take trade secrets (customer lists, for instance) and use those trade secrets to the detriment of the employer.
Our goals when helping you deal with the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets:
- Stop competitors, former employees, business associates, partners, shareholders, etc. from stealing or misappropriating your trade secrets;
- Obtain monetary damages for actual loss, which is tied directly to the misappropriation, and for unjust enrichment, which is tied indirectly to your original investment in research and development;
- Obtain injunctive relief when appropriate; and/or
- Obtain reasonable royalty streams based on use if your product/service could have been licensed.
Setting Out on Your Own? Take These Steps to Avoid Trade Secret Claims
It is imperative to understand your rights and obligations as an employee before setting out on your own, and take steps to avoid any accusations of impropriety or worse, a lawsuit.
- Don’t do anything fishy. Of course, the best way to avoid a trade secret claim is not to take any confidential or proprietary information. You should also take pains to avoid any activities that might appear suspicious. Promptly return all company property, including laptop, cell phone, building keys, security badges, etc. Do not log on to your former employer’s online portals or programs after you leave. Don’t make hard or electronic copies of any company materials, forms, client lists, or work products. Do not download files from your company computer to a flash drive or send emails to your personal email address. If you do need to remove personal files from your company computer, ask HR to look over your shoulder to avoid any hint of impropriety.
- Be aware of confidentiality agreements. When you first became an employee, you may have signed a stand-alone confidentiality agreement, or it may have been included as a provision in your employment agreement. It’s important that you understand your obligations under that provision, and inform your new employer of any agreements in place. A confidentiality agreement does not expire with your employment and may be in effect indefinitely.
- Make your new employer aware of your confidentiality or non-compete agreements. If you join another employer, the hiring company should also include clauses in their employment agreement with you that they are aware of your confidentiality agreement and respect and will comply with those provisions. In the event of a lawsuit, these steps would demonstrate the company’s good faith.
- Do not breach your fiduciary duty of loyalty. Even if you don’t have a written agreement, in some states like Texas, employees owe a fiduciary duty of loyalty to their employer. Under this duty, an employee cannot exploit for their own benefit an asset or opportunity that belongs to the employer or divert business from their employer while still employed.
There are exceptions and limits to this duty. “If you are an at-will employee, you can plan to compete while you’re still employed; you just can’t compete,” explains Managing Shareholder Trey Hendershot. "You can form a competing business, but you cannot start soliciting clients, customers, or fellow employees while still employed.” And, unlike a confidentiality agreement, the fiduciary duty of loyalty expires upon termination.
Likewise, general knowledge and skills acquired on the job are not protected by TUTSA. “An employee cannot be enjoined from using the general knowledge, skill and expertise learned during employment,” says Hendershot. “If you’re a home builder, for example, you know the steps it takes to build a house—from foundation to framing, plumbing, etc.—and you are permitted to leverage that knowledge in your next endeavor.”
As you set out on your own or move to your next venture, it is best to err on the side of caution. If you are unsure whether information is considered a trade secret, consult a lawyer who can assess the risks and help you avoid trade secret misappropriation.
Let our Texas Intellectual Property Law Firm Help You
The lawyers of Hendershot Cowart P.C. serve business clients in Houston and throughout Texas. To discuss your business needs – from drafting and negotiating IP agreements to protecting trade secrets – schedule a confidential consultation today at (713) 909-7323or contact us online.
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