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John Deere Files Suit Accusing Former Workers of Stealing Trade Secrets

A husband and wife who both held high-ranking positions at John Deere now face a lawsuit by the farm equipment manufacturer for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets. According to the company’s complaint, the couple collected and downloaded confidential materials prior to their departure.

Deere & Company’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Illinois, alleges Seth and Adrian Crawford violated the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and Illinois’ Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The complaint raises several issues that large and small businesses are dealing with across the country, including:

  • Access to commercially valuable information — Seth Crawford had worked at Deere since 1997. As director of global customer and product support, he had access to the company’s strategic plans in that branch of Deere’s business. The lawsuit says Adrian Crawford, as enterprise and analytics accelerator manager, also had access to trade secret and confidential information with commercial value.
  • Misappropriation of trade secrets — Like most large businesses, John Deere bars current and former employees from sharing confidential information or trade secrets with someone from outside the company. These provisions could expose the Crawfords to additional penalties on top of those authorized by trade secret protection laws.
  • Restrictive covenants —The complaint says that one of the defendants now apparently works with a John Deere competitor. If a valid restrictive covenant may support several potential remedies, including injunctive relief. To stand up in court, a noncompete agreement must satisfy a three-part test: The defendants must have served more than two years, there must be a legitimate business purpose for the restriction and the limitations must be reasonable in terms of scope, duration and geographic area.

Changes in technology and increased worker turnover can increase the threat of a trade secret falling into the wrong hands. Putting adequate safeguards in place can minimize the risk to your business. If you know or suspect that a problem already exists, it’s advisable to retain an attorney with significant experience in this area.

Schwartz & Kanyock, LLC assists businesses in trade secret litigation and the creation of restrictive covenants. No matter what type of confidential information you seek to protect, we’ll outline measures that can satisfy the pertinent legal standards. To schedule a consultation at our Chicago office, please call 312-436-1442 or contact us online.

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