Federal Trade Commission Non-compete Ban

What is the FTC Non-Compete Ban?

Partial Summary of the FTC Ban

The Federal Trade Commission adopted a comprehensive ban on new non-competes with all workers, including senior executives. The final rule provides that it is an unfair method of competition—and therefore a violation of Section 5—for employers to enter into Non-competes with workers.

Unless a court intervenes, the new rule becomes effective 120 days subsequent to April 23, 2024.

Here are some of the legal parameters of the FTC non-compete ban:

Non-Compete Defined (16 CFR Part 910.1)

(1) A term or condition of employment that prohibits a worker from, penalizes a worker for, or functions to prevent a worker from:

(i) seeking or accepting work in the United States with a different person where such work would begin after the conclusion of the employment that includes the term or condition; or

(ii) operating a business in the United States after the conclusion of the employment that includes the term or condition.

(2) For the purposes of this part 910, term or condition of employment includes, but is not limited to, a contractual term or workplace policy, whether written or oral.

Definitions of Persons Affected by the Ban – Abbreviated

Officer: A president, vice president, secretary, treasurer or principal financial officer, comptroller or principal accounting officer, and any natural person routinely performing corresponding functions with respect to any business entity whether incorporated or unincorporated.

Person: Any natural person, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity within the Commission’s jurisdiction, including any person acting under color or authority of State law.

Preceding Year: A person’s choice among the following time periods: the most recent 52-week year, the most recent calendar year, the most recent fiscal year, or the most recent anniversary of hire year.

Senior Executive: A worker who:

(1) Was in a policy-making position; and

(2) Received from a person for the employment:

(i) Total annual compensation of at least $151,164 in the preceding year; or

(ii) Total compensation of at least $151,164 when annualized if the worker was employed during only part of the preceding year; or

(iii) Total compensation of at least $151,164 when annualized in the preceding year prior to the worker’s departure if the worker departed from employment prior to the preceding year and the worker is subject to a non-compete clause.

Worker: A natural person who works or who previously worked, whether paid or unpaid, without regard to the worker’s title or the worker’s status under any other State or Federal laws, including, but not limited to, whether the worker is an employee, independent contractor, extern, intern, volunteer, apprentice, or a sole proprietor who provides a service to a person. The term worker includes a natural person who works for a franchisee or franchisor, but does not include a franchisee in the context of a franchisee-franchisor relationship.

Unfair Methods of Competition (16 CFR Part 910.2) – Abbreviated

(a) Unfair methods of competition—(1) Workers other than senior executives. With respect to a worker other than a senior executive, it is an unfair method of competition for a person:

(i) To enter into or attempt to enter into a non-compete clause;

(ii) To enforce or attempt to enforce a non-compete clause; or

(iii) To represent that the worker is subject to a non-compete clause.

Exceptions to the FTC Non-Compete Ban (16 CFR Part 910.3)

(a) Bona fide sales of business. The requirements of this part 910 shall not apply to a non-compete clause that is entered into by a person pursuant to a bona fide sale of a business entity, of the person’s ownership interest in a business entity, or of all or substantially all of a business entity’s operating assets.

(b) Existing causes of action. The requirements of this part 910 do not apply where a cause of action related to a non-compete clause accrued prior to the effective date.

(c) Good faith. It is not an unfair method of competition to enforce or attempt to enforce a non-compete clause or to make representations about a non-compete clause where a person has a good-faith basis to believe that this part 910 is inapplicable.

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Trademark case in Supreme Court

Whiskey vs. Dog Toys – A Supreme Court Case about Trademark Infringement

Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Trademark vs A Dog Toys Trademark

Jack Daniels objects to Bad Spaniels Trademark. The Supreme Court Case – Jack Daniel’s Props. v. VIP Prods. LLC, 143 S. Ct. 1578, 216 L. Ed. 2d 161, 599 U.S. 140 (U.S.).

The Facts

On page 1582 of the Jack Daniel’s Props. Supreme Court case, Justice Kagan wrote, “This case is about dog toys and whiskey, two items seldom appearing in the same sentence. Respondent VIP Products makes a squeaky, chewable dog toy designed to look like a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Though not entirely. On the toy, for example, the words “Jack Daniel’s” become “Bad Spaniels.” And the descriptive phrase “Old No. 7 Brand Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey” turns into “The Old No. 2 On Your Tennessee Carpet.” The jokes did not impress petitioner Jack Daniel’s Properties. It owns trademarks in the distinctive Jack Daniel’s bottle and in many of the words and graphics on the label. And it believed Bad Spaniels had both infringed and diluted those trademarks. Bad Spaniels had infringed the marks, the argument ran, by leading consumers to think that Jack Daniel’s had created, or was otherwise responsible for, the dog toy. And Bad Spaniels had diluted the marks, the argument went on, by associating the famed whiskey with, well, dog excrement.”

The Court of Appeals, in the decision we review [953 F.3d 1170 (2020)], saw things differently. Though the federal trademark statute makes infringement turn on the likelihood of consumer confusion, the Court of Appeals never got to that issue. On the court’s view, the First Amendment compels a stringent threshold test when an infringement suit challenges a so-called expressive work—here (so said the court), the Bad Spaniels toy. And that test knocked out Jack Daniel’s claim, whatever the likelihood of confusion. Likewise, Jack’s dilution claim failed—though on that issue the problem was statutory. The trademark law provides that the “noncommercial” use of a mark cannot count as dilution. 15 U.S.C. §1125(c)(3)(C). The Bad Spaniels marks, the court held, fell within that exemption because the toy communicated a message—a kind of parody—about Jack Daniel’s.

Supreme Court Legal Principles from the Jack Daniel’s Props. Decision

  • A trademark is not a trademark unless it identifies a product’s source and distinguishes that source from others. In other words, a mark tells the public who is responsible for a product.
  • A source-identifying mark enables customers to select “the goods and services that they wish to purchase, as well as those they want to avoid.
  • The mark “quickly and easily assures a potential customer that this item—the item with this mark—is made by the same producer as other similarly marked items that he or she liked or disliked in the past. Because that is so, the producer of a quality product may derive significant value from its marks.
  • The Lanham Act creates a federal cause of action for the plaintiff when the defendant’s actions are “likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive.”
  • The Lanham Act also creates a cause of action for the defendant’s dilution of famous marks, where the plaintiff does not need to prove “likelihood of confusion.”

 The Supreme Court’s Conclusions

  • A parody must “conjure up” “enough of [an] original to make the object of its critical wit recognizable.” The parody must also create contrasts, so that its message of ridicule or pointed humor comes clear. And once that is done, a parody is not often likely to create confusion.
  • The fair-use exclusion has its own exclusion: It does not apply when the use is “as a designation of source for the person’s own goods or services.” In that event, no parody, criticism, or commentary will rescue the alleged dilutor. It will be subject to liability regardless.
  • On infringement, we hold only that Rogers v. Grimalidi, 875 F. 2d 994, 999 (2nd Second 1989) does not apply when the challenged use of a mark is as a mark.
  • On dilution, we hold only that the noncommercial exclusion does not shield parody or other commentary when its use of a mark is similarly source-identifying.

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Beneficial Ownership Information Reporting

What is the Beneficial Ownership Information Report?

Beneficial Ownership Information Report

The Beneficial Ownership Information Report, which went into effect on January 1, 2024, is authorized by the 2021 National Defense Authorization (Pub.L. No. 116-283, 134 Stat. 338). It contains anti-money laundering provisions and also includes the Corporate Transparency Act.

It is the United States Department of the Treasury that enforces the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA).

Unless a company has an exemption from the CTA, the company must file a Beneficial Ownership Information Report (BOIR) with the Department of the Treasury.

What Entities Must File The Beneficial Ownership Information Report

As a general rule, reporting companies are corporations, limited liability companies or professional limited liability companies that have filed one or more documents with a State’s Secretary of State or a similar office of an Indian Tribe.

A reporting company can be a domestic or a foreign jurisdiction company and must file a BOIR.

What Entities Are Exempt From Filing The BOIR

There are some business entities who are exempt from filing the Beneficial Ownership Information Report. They include:

1 Securities reporting issuer

2 Governmental authority

3 Bank

4 Credit union

5 Depository institution holding company

6 Money services business

7 Broker or dealer in securities

8 Securities exchange or clearing agency

9 Other Exchange Act registered entity

10 Investment company or investment adviser

11 Venture capital fund adviser

12 Insurance company

13 State-licensed insurance producer

14 Commodity Exchange Act registered entity

15 Accounting firm

16 Public utility

17 Financial market utility

18 Pooled investment vehicle

19 Tax-exempt entity

20 Entity assisting a tax-exempt entity

21 Large operating company

22 Subsidiary of certain exempt entities

23 Inactive entity

When Must File The BOIR Be Filed

For a company created before January 1, 2024, the BOIR must be filed by December 31, 2024. For a company created after January 1, 2024, the BOIR must be filed with 90 days of the company’s creation.

If your company needs assistance with its BOIR, please contact Business Patent Law.

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Claim terms in Patent documents

Patent Application Words Meaning

The Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

The words (or terms) used to outline and describe the claims of your patent application may be interpreted differently by different people. How is this resolved by the USPTO?

During USPTO examination, the Patent Application words (meaning of the claims term) must be “given their broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification,” as per Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1316, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

The broadest reasonable construction of the claims is determined “in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art.” In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr., 367 F.3d 1359, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

According to the USPTO Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, “The broadest reasonable interpretation does not mean the broadest possible interpretation. Rather, the meaning given to a claim term must be consistent with the ordinary and customary meaning of the term (unless the term has been given a special definition in the specification), and must be consistent with the use of the claim term in the specification and drawings. Further, the broadest reasonable interpretation of the claims must be consistent with the interpretation that those skilled in the art would reach.”

The Patent Application in Plain Words

Under a broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI), words of the claim must be given their plain meaning, unless such meaning is inconsistent with the specification. The plain meaning of a term means the ordinary and customary meaning given to the term by those of ordinary skill in the art at the relevant time.

“The Greatest clarity is obtained when the specification serves as a glossary for the claim terms”

The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including the words of the claims themselves, the specification, drawings, and prior art. However, the best source for determining the meaning of a claim term is the specification – the greatest clarity is obtained when the specification serves as a glossary for the claim terms. The words of the claim must be given their plain meaning unless the plain meaning is inconsistent with the specification. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989).

“[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips v. AWH Corp.

The USPTO Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, in part, reads, “The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including the words of the claims themselves, the specification, drawings, and prior art. However, the best source for determining the meaning of a claim term is the specification – the greatest clarity is obtained when the specification serves as a glossary for the claim terms.”

Patent Application Words Meaning – Explicit Definition

Where an explicit definition is provided by the applicant for a term, that definition will control interpretation of the term as it is used in the claim, as per Toro Co. v. White Consolidated Industries Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1301, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (Fed. Cir. 1999)

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Trademark Examiner's Amendment

Should You Accept a Trademark Examiner’s Amendment?

Trademark Examiner’s Amendment of Application

A Trademark Examiner’s amendment is sometimes suggested and/or required during examination a US Trademark Application*.

Some Examiner’s amendments will alter the scope of rights associated with a future Trademark Registration. Other Trademark Examiner’s amendments will not modify the scope of rights associated with a future Trademark Registration.

Whether or not to accept the Trademark Examiner’s amendment is a business decision.

Potential Consequences of an Amendment

Applicant’s acceptance of the Trademark Examiner’s amendment generally results in Trademark Registration for the Applicant.

Failure to agree to the Examiner’s amendment can result in:

  • Legal arguments that the Examiner’s suggested amendment is inappropriate
  • A refusal to register the Trademark and the loss of long-term federal rights associated with a US Registration
  • An appeal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board where the Applicant can lose the appeal
  • Filing a new Application to register the Trademark, where the new Application is modified from the previously filed Trademark Application

About Section 707 – TMEP – Examiner’s Amendment*

Examples of Section 707 relevant procedures for Trademark Examiners include:

  • An Examiner’s amendment should be used whenever appropriate to expedite prosecution of an Application
  • An Examiner’s amendment is a communication to the Applicant in which the examining attorney states that the Application has been amended in a specified way
  • Except in the situations listed in TMEP §707.02, the amendment must be specifically authorized by the individual Applicant, someone with legal authority to bind a juristic Applicant 700-20 October 2010 (e.g., an officer of a corporation or general partner of a partnership), or the applicant’s qualified practitioner
  • Except in the situations set forth in TMEP §707.02 in which an examiner’s amendment is permitted without prior authorization by the Applicant, an examining attorney may amend an application by examiner’s amendment only after securing approval of the amendment from the individual Applicant, someone with legal authority to bind a juristic Applicant, or the Applicant’s qualified practitioner by telephone, e-mail, or in person during an interview. Cf. 37 C.F.R. §§2.62(b) and 2.74(b)
  • If the Applicant has a qualified practitioner, the examining attorney must speak directly with the practitioner
  • If the Applicant is pro se, the examining attorney must speak directly with the individual Applicant or with someone with legal authority to bind a juristic Applicant (e.g., a corporate officer or general partner of a partnership)
  • For joint Applicants who are not represented by a qualified practitioner, each joint Applicant must authorize the examiner’s amendment

*Along with Trademarks, the USPTO Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TME) also applies to Service Mark Applications.

If your company needs assistance with its Trademarks/Service Marks, please contact Business Patent Law.

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Christmas Patent Products

Patents for Christmas Inventions

Do Investors Get Patents for Christmas Inventions?

Yes, many inventors receive patents for Christmas inventions!

In 2023, US Christmas sales are anticipated to exceed 950 billion dollars. Christmas inventions are a portion of this market. Some inventors hope to seize a portion of those sales.

Examples of Christmas Themed Inventions

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Deadlines and timing of trademarks and service marks

Duration of a US Trademark Registration

The duration of a US Trademark or Service Mark is perpetual; provided the following conditions are met:

  • The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted a federal Registration of the Trademark or Service Mark
  • After registration, the Trademark/Service Mark is not canceled by the USPTO or court order
  • The required government fees are paid in timely manner
  • The required declarations of use are timely filed in USPTO
  • The required evidence of use in commerce regulated by Congress is timely filed in the USPTO

Timing Required to Maintain a Trademark

There is a specific timing of Required Fees, Declarations and Evidence needed to Maintain a US Trademark/Service Mark Registration in full force and effect:

15 U.S.C. §1058. Duration, affidavits and fees

(a) Time periods for required affidavits

Each registration shall remain in force for 10 years, except that the registration of any mark shall be canceled by the Director unless the owner of the registration files in the United States Patent and Trademark Office affidavits that meet the requirements of subsection (b), within the following time periods:

(1) Within the 1-year period immediately preceding the expiration of 6 years following the date of registration under this chapter or the date of the publication under section 1062(c) of this title.

(2) Within the 1-year period immediately preceding the expiration of 10 years following the date of registration, and each successive 10-year period following the date of registration.

(3) The owner may file the affidavit required under this section within the 6-month grace period immediately following the expiration of the periods established in paragraphs (1) and (2), together with the fee described in subsection (b) and the additional grace period surcharge prescribed by the Director.

Illustrations of Timely Filings

To preserve the duration of a US Trademark Registration you must do the following:

  • Between fifth and sixth year subsequent to registration, file required fees, declarations and evidence of use in USPTO
  • Between ninth and tenth year subsequent to registration, file required fees, declarations and evidence of use in USPTO
  • Between nineteenth and twentieth year subsequent to registration, file required fees, declarations and evidence of use in USPTO
  • ***Subsequent to the ninth year USPTO filings, every tenth year interval, i.e, 19, 29th, 39th, etc. from the registration date

If your company needs assistance with its Trademarks/Service Marks, please contact Business Patent Law, PLLC.

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Patent drawings for patent application and replacement drawings after notice of allowance

Replacement Drawings After a Notice of Allowance?

Can the USPTO Require Replacement Drawings?

YES.

Some Applicants for US Patents represent themselves and, on occasion, the pro se Applicant successfully argues to the Examiner that the Application’s claims are patentable.

Other Applicants are represented by patent professionals and (due to various national and international deadlines) a complete but not pristine Patent Application that obtains a filing date is filed in the USPTO.

For some Patent Applications, Examiners issue a Notice of Allowance where the Issue Fee must be paid by a specified date. After the Examiner’s issues the Notice of Allowance, the Application is transferred to the Publications Branch of the USPTO. It is here that a replacement drawing may be required.

Code of Federal Regulations for Utility Patent Application Drawings

37 Code Federal Regulations 1.84 (a) (1), in part, reads, “37 C.F.R. 1.84 Standards for drawings.  (1) Black ink.  Black and white drawings are normally required. India ink, or its equivalent that secures solid black lines, must be used for drawings”.

After receiving the allowed Patent Application from the Examiner, the Publications Branch can require correction of a part of the Application, such as the Drawings. For instance, when Applicants have not filed the required black and white line drawings in the as-filed Application, but rather used photographs or non-line computer generated images to obtain a filing date.

Most of the time, the drawings are replaced before the Notice of Allowance is granted. However, occasionally, the black and white line drawings are required after the Notice of Allowance and before the grant of the Patent.

Patent drawings for replacement drawings after notice of allowance

Replacement Drawings for Utility Patent Applications

A part of the Notice for Corrected Application Papers looks something like the example below.

Notice to File Corrected Application Papers for Patent

In the Notice to File Correction Application Papers, the Publication Branch of the USPTO requires replacement black and white line drawings before the Patent Application will be granted. One or more as-filed figures need to be replaced by black and white line drawings.

To properly respond to the Notice to File Correction Application Papers – Drawings, the Applicant must file the required black and white line drawings within the allotted time identified on the Notice to File Correction Application Papers.

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Abandoned Patent Application

Is An Abandoned Patent Application Public?

How Does a Patent Application Become Abandoned?

An abandoned Patent Application occurs when the Applicant does not meet United States Patent Office’s (USPTO) requirements in responding to the USPTO.

Are They Public Record?

Does an abandoned US Patent become public record when it is abandoned?  It depends!  For national security reasons, some Patents are kept top secret.

With the exception of top secret Patents, when a US Patent is granted the contents of the granted Patent’s USPTO file wrapper become public record.

As a general rule:

  1. When a US Patent Application is abandoned, the USPTO file wrapper for the US Patent Application does not become public record.
  2. A US Provisional Patent Application does not become public record.

Existing Patent Applications Available to the Public Include:

  • Published Patent Applications
  • Reissue Patent Applications
  • Documents that were sealed as a condition of filing the Patent Application
  • Arbitration records associated with a Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceeding
  • All documents and evidence entered in a US Patent’s Reexamination Proceedings’ records

Abandoned Patent Applications Available to the Public

  • Unpublished abandoned applications (including provisional applications) that are identified or relied upon
  • Unpublished pending applications (including provisional applications) whose benefit is claimed
  • Unpublished pending applications (including provisional applications) that are incorporated by reference or otherwise identified

USPTO Legal Authority Regarding Public Records of Patent Applications

37 Code of Federal Regulations Section 1.11

37 Code of Federal Regulations Section 1.14

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Trade Secrets - What are they and how do you protect them

What Are Trade Secrets?

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets are a type of intellectual property that can be of great value to the owner over a period of years. For something to be a Trade Secret, it must be kept secret. Public disclosure of a Trade Secret destroys the value of the Trade Secret.

Depending on the circumstances associated with the Trade Secret, federal (18 U.S.C 1831-1839), State or common law may determine the rights of the owner of the Trade Secret. 18 U.S.C 1831-1839, for instance, has both criminal and civil provisions.

Forty-eight of the 50 States have adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) which became the law of those States.

Definitions of Trade Secrets

U.S.C. 1939 (3) reads:

“…(3) the term “trade secret” means all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible, and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing if—

          (A)    the owner thereof has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret; and

          (B)    the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information;…”

The UTSA defines “trade secret” as:

“”Trade secret” means information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that:

  1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and
  2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

What is misappropriation?

 18 U.S.C. 1939 (5 & 6) read:

 (5)   the term “misappropriation” means—

          (A)    acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means; or

          (B)    disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent by a person who—

                    (i)     used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret;

                    (ii)    at the time of disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that the knowledge of the trade secret was—

                              (I)     derived from or through a person who had used improper means to acquire the trade secret;

                              (II)   acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret; or

                              (III)  derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret; or

                    (iii)   before a material change of the position of the person, knew or had reason to know that—

                              (I)     the trade secret was a trade secret; and

                              (II)   knowledge of the trade secret had been acquired by accident or mistake;

What are Improper Means?

 (6)    the term “improper means”—

          (A)    includes theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means; and

          (B)    does not include reverse engineering, independent derivation, or any other lawful means of acquisition;…”

The UTSA Defines “Improper Means” and “Misappropriation”

(1)     “Improper means” includes theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means;

(2)     “Misappropriation” means:

(a)     Acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means; or

(b)     Disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent by a person who:

    1. Used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret; or
    2. At the time of disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that his knowledge of the trade secret was:
    3. Derived from or through a person who had utilized improper means to acquire it;
    4. Acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain its secrecy or limit its use; or
    5. Derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain its secrecy or limit its use; or
    6. Before a material change of his position, knew or had reason to know that it was a trade secret and that knowledge of it had been acquired by accident or mistake.

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