A couple in Uttarakhan, India, has sued their 35-year old son for $650,000 on the grounds that he failed to provide them a grandchild. The monetary claim reflects the amount they supposedly invested in him over the years, apparently viewing him as some sort of horse stud when they paid for his education and wedding.
Their petition explains, “We killed our dreams to raise him” and “despite all our efforts, my son and his wife have caused mental torture by not giving us a grandchild.”
In the business world it seems more reasonable to demand a return on your investment in someone. But that has limits too.
Last week in Virginia, a jury awarded $2 billion to a software company for misappropriation of trade secrets, finding that a rival had paid a disloyal employee of the victim company to steal trade secrets and pass them along. Investing in someone to steal trade secrets is not kosher. Unlike the “no grandbabies” case, that seems like solid ground for a lawsuit.
While the theft of trade secrets appeared intentional here, it’s possible to acquire a rival’s confidential information unintentionally too. The risk may be especially high when you’re retaining an independent contractor who has expertise in an industry and who has likely worked for various competitors in the same space.
When retaining independent contractors, businesses should take steps to ensure they are not going to be acquiring confidential or trade secret information from the contractor.
Here’s an easy tip to help protect your company from inadvertently acquiring confidential or trade secret information from a competitor: Include in your independent contractor agreement a clause that prohibits the contractor from using any confidential or trade secret information from any past client or employer. Prohibit the contractor from incorporating any such information into any work that the contractor creates for your business.
The same type of clause can be inserted into your employment agreements.
While intentionally stealing a rival’s trade secrets is obviously a no-no, an accidental taking or an accidental incorporation of such information into your software or other systems can also create liability. Taking a clear stand that you prohibit that sort of thing will help avoid a problem later. And, if something bad does occur (assuming you didn’t solicit the improper disclosure), you’ll be in a much better place to defend against a misappropriation claim.
As for the Uttarakhan man and his wife, I don’t know what the best defense is to that sort of claim. But I do know the next family get-together is likely to be a bit uncomfortable.
© 2022 Todd Lebowitz, posted on WhoIsMyEmployee.com, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.