A tiny Palatine, IL-based software company has sued giant Google Inc., alleging that Google misappropriated the company’s trade secrets.  LimitNone LLC, a software startup with fewer than five employees, developed a software tool to help users of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Outlook email client move their data to Google’s online programs.

The complaint alleges that copies of the software, called gMove, were provided to Google in confidence, to help Google promote the gMove.  The suit claims that despite assurances from Google that it would not develop a competing product, by December 2007 Google was providing a free tool with very similar functionality.  According to the lawsuit, “the [Google] product copied gMove’s look, feel, functionality and distribution model, including several unique and proprietary operations.”

LimitNone is seeking relief for trade secret misappropriation on the order of $950 million.

The situation highlights the importance of making every effort to safeguard one’s confidential information and trade secrets.  In Illinois, the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA) defines a trade secret as:

any information, including but not limited to, technical or non-technical data, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, drawing, process, financial data, or list of actual or potential customers or suppliers, that:

(1) is sufficiently secret to derive economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to 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 or confidentiality.

So long as the two requirements are satisfied, the confidential information is considered a trade secret and protected from “misappropriation,” which is broadly defined by the statute to favor the protection of trade secrets.

Especially key are the required efforts to maintain secrecy that are “reasonable under the circumstances.”  It remains to be seen whether LimitNone took sufficient steps during its negotiations with Google to protect the secrecy of its software.  Trade secret owners should be exceedingly protective of their valuable confidential information, and should seek legal advice before taking any steps which could conceivably compromise the information’s secrecy.

Original story located here.