In a trade secret case, a federal district court orders the imaging of employees’ work laptops, but not their personal cellphones.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted in part a plaintiff’s emergency motion for expedited discovery to allow forensic imaging of the defendant’s employees’ laptops to search for evidence of trade secret misappropriation, but denied the plaintiff’s request to image the employees’ cell phones, finding it overly broad, unduly burdensome, and unduly intrusive.
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The plaintiff in Ainstein AI, Inc. v. ADAC Plastics, Inc., No. 23-2166-DDC-TJJ, 2023 WL 3568661 (D. Kan. May 19, 2023), a developer of radar technology, entered a joint venture with the defendant, a supplier of automotive technology, to design and manufacture radar-based systems for use in the automotive industry. After the business relationship between the parties soured, the plaintiff attempted to revoke the defendant’s access to a shared Google Drive containing the plaintiff’s intellectual property. The plaintiff alleged that several of the defendant’s employees accessed the Google Drive without its permission, and sued for misappropriation of trade secrets and related causes of action. The defendant admitted that its employees downloaded the material at issue, but argued they were permitted to do so under the joint venture agreement.
The plaintiff brought an emergency motion for expedited discovery, seeking a forensic examination of the computers, storage devices, and cellphones of several of the defendant’s employees. The plaintiff argued that expedited discovery was necessary to preserve evidence of misappropriation of the trade secret files.
First, the Court found that the plaintiff demonstrated good cause for expedited discovery, in part because getting the most out of forensic investigation requires either examining the devices at issue as soon as possible or disallowing use of the devices until imaging can be completed.
Second, the Court granted the plaintiff’s request for the forensic imaging of the work computers and storage devices utilized by the defendant’s employees at issue, finding:
Third, the Court denied the plaintiff’s request for forensic imaging of the employees’ personal cell phones, finding:
The court further explained that the request for the individuals to produce their cell phones to a third-party for an unspecified amount of time was overly burdensome, and it questioned whether the cell phones were even in the defendant’s possession, custody, or control such that it could be compelled to produce them for imaging.