Saturday, October 30, 2010

Barnes & Thornburg Cloud Computing and Cyber Security Blog

My law firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, one of the top 100 largest law firms in the U.S., has just launched its Cloud Computing and Cyber Security blog. The firm also just formed a Cloud Computing and Cyber Security Practice team. The team is composed of lawyers in the firm's various offices, and cuts across many other practice areas, including information technology, intellectual property, business, litigation, insurance coverage and international law.

Roy Hadley and I co-lead the team. Roy is an information security and technology lawyer, and deserves the lion's share of the credit in organizing the new team. Right now, Roy and I are also monitoring and contributing to the blog, although we hope and expect other team members will contribute in the near future.

To access the blog, click here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thinking About Cloud Computing and Cyber-Security?

By John L. Watkins

Many businesses are thinking about using cloud computing providers for all or part of their IT infrastructure. Cloud providers promise scalability, off-site IT management, availability and security. As with all new technologies, there are many legal issues.

My law firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, has recently established a Cloud Computing and Cyber-Security practice team that cuts across many legal disciplines. My partner, Roy Hadley, and I are the leaders of the new team.

Roy is a true information technology specialist. Roy has practiced for many years in the technology space, including serving as general counsel and chief privacy officer of technology companies. I bring the litigation, insurance coverage, and general business perspective. We have many other members on the team specializing in different disciplines, including intellectual property (which is very strong firm-wide at BT), information technology, insurance coverage and recovery, international law, tax, and general business, among others. The collective experience our colleagues bring to this initiative is pretty amazing. The firm will be launching a blog on cloud computing and cyber-security topics shortly.

Roy and I were recently asked to write a primer on the legal issues for the Georgia State Bar’s Technology Section. Click here to read the article. I hope you find it useful. Caveats: This is a general overview written from a general U.S. point of view. There are additional issues in Europe. As a general statement, Europe seems to be ahead of the U.S. in dealing with these issues.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

This One's for Casey, Jr.

By John L. Watkins

Yesterday, Margaret and I lost Casey, Jr., our 21 year old black and white Manx cat. He was a stray in the neighborhood, probably about a year old, when we moved into this house many years ago. He looked a great deal like a black and white Manx cat from our former neighborhood named Casey who liked to "make the rounds" and get fed by many, including us. Thus, we took to calling the new cat "Casey, Jr.," and our old friend became "Casey, Sr." Casey, Jr. seemed destined to be our cat.

Anyway, it took a bit of an effort to adopt Casey, Jr. He was perfectly willing to come on the porch and accept food, but was quite feral, and was not about to let anyone pet him or pick him up. Once I finally coaxed him into the house, an almost instant transformation took place. He decided he really liked regular meals and attention, and became quite the Southern gentleman. He was always dapper -- at least until his last year -- looking like he was wearing a tuxedo. He loved being petted and purred on contact. His favorite spot was on Margaret's lap or sitting beside her on the couch.

It's always difficult to lose a pet, but losing this one was really hard. Twenty or so years is a long time to have a pet. Casey was a link to a different time in our lives, when we were young and things seemed a lot simpler.

Casey enjoyed his life and he had a great heart. You really do not expect an animal to reach such a Methuselah-like age, but he just kept on going. Over five years ago, our vet told us he probably had three to six months to live. The vet was wrong, and Casey still had great years ahead of him. In the past year or so, however, he got old and creaky, and, as old animals tend to do, just could not keep on weight despite having a healthy appetite. Even at the end, Casey's heart and spirit were willing, but the rest had just worn out. We miss him and always will.

If this has touched you, there are two things I would like you to consider doing. First, if you have been thinking about adopting a dog or a cat, do it. And if you are considering a pet, please adopt one from a shelter, or take in that dog or cat your kid brought home. We support Furkids, a no-kill shelter in our part of town. A few weeks ago, we visited its open house. I cannot tell you how many wonderful cats and dogs were there waiting for homes. Trust me, that free "DSH" (domestic short hair) or friendly mutt will make just as good a pet as a purebred.

Second, please consider giving to a shelter in your area. It doesn't matter if it is just a few dollars. Any amount helps. In these lousy economic times, the shelters are really struggling to keep open. If you need a suggestion, the previously mentioned Furkids is a great organization, as is the Atlanta Humane Society.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What About Clients?

By John L. Watkins

One of my favorite legal blogs is What About Clients, written by Dan Hull and others from the Hull, McGuire firm. The key point of the blog is that the focus of what we do as lawyers should always be the client. A great reminder for all of us.

Dan is another guy with Midwestern roots and an international outlook. He "gets it." With great content written in a pithy and entertaining style, the blog is a must read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trade Secrets, Green Technology and Protecting What You Think You Own

By John L. Watkins

According to a press release from the FBI last month, green technology is an increasingly attractive target for "would-be information thieves looking to make a fast buck." The Economic Espionage Act is a federal law that makes trade secret theft a federal crime. The language of the Act is very similar to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, variants of which have been adopted by most states. The state acts provide for civil remedies (damages and injunctions), and sometimes criminal penalties.

Many companies -- large and small -- seek to protect important information as trade secrets. It is often impractical, for example, to maintain a large patent portfolio. The Copyright Act can provide some protection, but is limited in its scope. A trade secret, in contrast, can potentially be almost any information that has economic value and that is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy. Examples can include customer lists, supplier lists, business plans, computer programs, formulas, and financial information, all depending on the particular circumstances.

The Need for Protection

A key element for protection under virtually any trade secret law is that the owner took reasonable steps to protect the information. Companies or individuals with trade secrets -- from start-ups to the largest companies -- need to make sure they have acted to maintain the secrecy of their information. This requires legal help, preferably from the beginning.

The vision of recent college graduates (or dropouts) writing software or developing other technology in a storefront office or a garage is a modern variant of the American Dream of rising from rags to riches. Such efforts are not necessarily mere pipe dreams. In fact, modern technology and decreasing barriers to entry probably make it more possible than ever for an entrepreneur to become successful, if not becoming the next billionaire.

This same technology -- thumb drives that hold gigabytes of information and portable hard drives that hold terabytes -- make it easy for anyone with access to the information to copy it. More and more trade secret cases are being brought against former employees who used such technology to take company information.

The start-up is particularly vulnerable. In many instances, friends will work together in developing technology or another invention. Sometimes, entrepreneurs will “partner” with another company for a particular purpose. In some instances, an investor will come into the mix. In each instance, if intellectual property rights are not documented properly, the possibility of a future dispute becomes very real.

Further, the possibility of a future dispute or lawsuit increases in direct proportion to the success of the venture. Put more bluntly, it is not likely that anyone will fight over worthless technology. It is very likely, however, that disputes will develop over valuable technology.

When inventors or entrepreneurs believe they have developed, invented or written something valuable, it is critically important to consult with an experienced attorney. All employees should sign a written non-disclosure agreement. It is also important to enter into a non-disclosure agreement before entering into any relationship with a third-party business “partner” or an investor. It is equally important that persons working together document their respective rights and obligations regarding the technology, writing or invention. (In addition to trade secret protection, it is also important to consider whether to seek additional protection, such as a patent application or copyright registration).

This is definitely not a situation where inventors, entrepreneurs or investors should try to go it alone or use Internet forms. Prospective clients should also not assume that every lawyer has the necessary experience or expertise to prepare proper documentation or to provide the proper advice.

Having proper non-disclosure agreements and other contracts in place is only the beginning. Adopting procedures and practical measures to maintain the secrecy of the information is also very important. This includes limiting access to the information to those who really need to have such access, monitoring usage, and being diligent in reinforcing the need to keep the information secret. Experienced legal counsel can offer practical advice on this subject.

This is an area in which experienced counsel can provide substantial value at a low cost. Management looking to cut a few corners by avoiding legal fees or who think they can go it alone (frankly, a common attitude among entrepreneurs and engineers) often find that failing to invest a little in initial legal advice later leads to costly legal bills, a loss of any protection for their technology, or both.

Trade Secret Litigation

If a company expects that there has been an information breach, it is extremely important to consult immediately with counsel. It may be necessary to engage forensic experts to determine whether there has actually been a breach and the likely extent of the breach. Ideally, forensic experts should be engaged with the assistance of counsel. The failure to act promptly may compromise potential legal and equitable remedies.

Given the FBI's stated interest, it may be tempting to turn the investigation over to the criminal authorities. This should be done only after consultation with company counsel.

First, and most importantly, the authorities are probably not going to be able to secure any direct relief for the company. Damages and injunctive relief will need to be sought directly by the company. Second, involving the government also involves a loss of control. The authorities, not the company, decide whether to proceed and how aggressively to pursue the matter. In contrast, the company can decide how it wishes to pursue possible civil remedies. Third, if the government is to be involved, their involvement is typically best handled through company counsel.


Trade secret statutes provide substantial civil and criminal remedies for the misuse of proprietary information. Not surprisingly, green technology and other cutting edge technology provide attractive targets for those seeking to profit from the work of others. It is critically important to involve counsel as early as possible in protecting confidential and proprietary information. If there is a breach, the early involvement of counsel will help achieve the best possible outcome.

If you do not know how to find a business attorney and need a resource, my book, An Insider's Guide on Hiring a Business Attorney, provides a step-by-step guide for finding, evaluating, hiring, and working with a business attorney. It is available on for $15.99.