Articles Developments in PIL Scholarship

Ohly on Jurisdiction and Choice of Law in Trade Secrets Cases

Ansgar Ohly (Ludwig Maximilian University Munich) wrote an interesting article addressing matters of jurisdiction and choice of law in trade secrets misappropriation cases. The article entitled Jurisdiction and Choice of Law in Trade Secrets Cases: the EU Perspective has been published in an Edward Elgar Research Handbook on Information Law and Governance edited by Sharon K. Sandeen, Christoph Rademacher and Ansgar Ohly. A version of the paper is now available for free consultation on SSRN.

The abstract reads as follows:

Trade secrecy law is a hybrid between intellectual property and unfair competition law. This makes the characterisation of trade secrecy law for the purposes of private international law difficult. This paper argues that neither the EU conflict of law rules for unfair competition law nor those for IP law can be applied, but that a sui-generis solution is called for.

The paper is structured around two parts: one dedicated to determining jurisdiction in trade secrets cases – Part II – and another to applicable law – Part III.

The analysis is systematic and starts from matters of jurisdiction in tort or contract cases, discussing the Bogsitter case (C-548/12) and Wikingerhof case (C-59/19; the judgment was not yet given by the CJEU), Trade Secrets Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/943), and looking at the place where ‘the harmful event occurs’.

For applicable law, the EU provisions seem to force the courts to address the difficult question of whether the protection of trade secrets is a part of intellectual property or of unfair competition law.

One of the problematic aspects of the analysis is related to the specificity of trade secrecy that usually involves a chain of events which consists of the acquisition, the disclosure, and the use of the information.

All of these acts are separate acts of infringement, but at the same time they are related (see the “cascade of liability” established by Article 4 Trade Secrets Directive).

Hence, the question is whether these acts should be dealt with separately for the purpose of establishing jurisdiction and determining the applicable law or whether the entire dispute should be handled by one forum based on one applicable law or other sui generis solution should be considered.