Trial Court to Decide Whether LinkedIn Contacts Are a Trade Secret

September 30, 2014

First published on the netWORKed Blog.

By Norah Olson Bluvshtein

Are your LinkedIn contacts yours or your employer’s? Are they confidential? Could they even be considered trade secrets? While we do not yet know the answer to these important questions, we may be one step closer because of a recent court ruling in Cellular Accessories for Less, Inc. v. Trinitas LLC.

Among the issues decided in this case was whether Cellular’s claim—that a former employee’s LinkedIn contacts constituted trade secrets—would be dismissed on summary judgment or proceed to trial.

On the one hand, the defendants argued that the former employee, David Oakes’, LinkedIn contacts were not a trade secret because “Cellular encouraged its employees to create and use LinkedIn accounts, and Oakes’ LinkedIn contacts would have been ‘viewable to any other contact he has on LinkedIn.’”

On the other hand, Cellular argued that Oakes’ LinkedIn contacts were a trade secret because “LinkedIn information is only available to the degree that the user chooses to share it” and “it is not automatically the case that contact information is ‘viewable to any other contact.’”

Maddingly, however, neither side provided any evidence as to whether Oakes had actually set his privacy settings so that his contacts were viewable or not!

Largely because of this, the court decided that Cellular’s trade secret claim could not be dismissed on summary judgment because there “remain[ed] issues of material fact as to the LinkedIn information.”

What this means, then, is that unless the parties settle, we may actually get a trial court ruling on whether LinkedIn contacts can be considered a trade secret. This is definitely a case to watch.

If you have any questions about the implications of LinkedIn or other forms of social media on your business’s ability to protect its trade secrets, please contact one of the lawyers in our Trade Secret Group.