Lessons from Vaquillas Trade Secret Trial
The San Antonio Court of Appeals recently affirmed a nearly $5 million trade secret jury verdict for breach of an oil and gas trade secret contained in a “treasure map” of gas drilling sites. This case represents some interesting wrinkles in normal trade secret law because the plaintiff was not the developer of the trade secret. It had actually contracted with the defendant to develop the site map, and only retained right of first refusal to develop the sites. Thus, this is almost a “trade secrets for hire” type of case like we see in copyright cases.
Furthermore, the trade secret was in a very publicly accessible field that anyone could access–but the court held that the investment of time and over $1 million coupled with the agreements and confidentiality among the parties and their officers rendered this a plausible trade secret.
The $4.9 million verdict is also interesting–verdicts above $5 million have a way of getting a writ accepted in the Texas Supreme Court, at which point it would have had a 90%+ chance of getting overturned. Stay tuned.