Keurig v. SharkNinja’s Trade Secret Coffee Crisis

Attribution @MikeMozart
Attribution @MikeMozart

Keurig, the Vermont-based maker of the popular coffer makers and the K-cup instant coffee pods, filed a lawsuit against SharkNinja, the company that made what is arguably one of the most popular household blenders on the market today, and two former Keurig employees. The suit was filed on Tuesday in Massachusetts federal court, alleging that SharkNinja stole Keurig’s trade secrets, and also accusing the two former employees of breach of contract. Keurig has also petitioned the court for a preliminary injunction (a temporary order granted by a court, before or during trial, in order to preserving the current status quo before a final judgment is made on a case), in order to force SharkNinja to return confidential information that was allegedly taken by the two former Keurig employees, whose names are Ronald DiFabio and Stephen Turner.

A trade secret can be any confidential business information which provides a business with a competitive edge. Trade secrets usually encompass manufacturing, industrial, and commercial secrets, and can include sales and distribution methods, consumer profiles, advertising strategies, lists of a business’ suppliers and clients, and their manufacturing processes.

Keurig requested the injunction under the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, a law which gives a plaintiff  the ability to sue for trade secret misappropriation in federal court. Keurig is claiming that needs the preliminary injunction because otherwise, they will suffer irreparable harm if SharkNinja is not forced to give back the confidential information, which includes sales and marketing material relating to one of Keurig’s largest customers, Bed Bath & Beyond. Aside from damages, Keurig is also seeking attorneys’ fees and other relief.

Keurig’s suit alleges that since they started competing with Keurig, SharkNinja has made a habit of soliciting and hiring Keurig employees. The complaint filed by Keurig states that DiFabio served as Keurig’s senior vice president of U.S. sales in 2013, and while in that role, he had access to Keurig’s confidential information and their trade secrets, including sales strategies and operational policies. DiFabio’s confidentiality agreement, which he signed when he started with Keurig, states that he would keep that information confidential. The complaint also alleged that the confidentiality agreement also required DiFabio to refrain from developing any competing goods or solicit the company’s employees and customers for a year after leaving Keurig.

If Keurig is going to prevail in this suit, they are going to have to prove that they have some business information that is valuable, that information was kept a secret, the information is not generally known, and the defendant has wrongfully used that secret, putting the plaintiff at great risk. The case is Keurig Green Mountain v. SharkNinja, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 17-12133.

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