ITC can block imports for trade secret misappropriation outside the United States
In Tian Rui Group v. ITC, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the International Trade Commission (ITC) can prevent the importation of products made by a trade secret process misappropriated abroad, if the trade secret was developed in the United States.
In this case, Amsted (and American company) uses a trade secret process to make railway wheels. They license a different process to companies in China and elsewhere. Tian Rui hired former employees of Amsted, in China, to learn Amsted’s secret process. They made wheels, using the secret process, and shipped them to the U.S.
Amsted asked the ITC to block Tian Rui’s importation of the wheels produced by this trade secret method. The ITC issued an exclusion order, which was appealed to the CAFC.
The ITC relied on 19 U.S.C. § 1337(a)(1)(A) which provides the ITC authority over “Unfair methods of competition and unfair acts in the importation of articles . . . into the United States” if it will substantially injure and industry in the U.S. The ITC previously has used this section to bar products based on a variety of non-statutory unfair acts, including trade secret misappropriation. However, this was a case of first impression, with respect to actions taking place entirely outside the United States.
The CAFC, in a 2-1 decision (Bryson & Schall for the majority, Moore dissenting) ruled that while U.S. laws generally do not apply extraterritorially (e.g. outside the United States), the prevention of domestic injury from importation of products made using unfair methods justifies applying the statute to such acts.
The court further held that unfair competition bed actions are Federal, and thus ruled by federal law. Since the statute addresses importation, and provides a remedy in the ITC, federal rules should apply. By federalizing trade secret law, they could reach the conclusion, without expressly suggesting that U.S. trade secret law has extraterritorial reach. The court also noted that the statute does not require the use of the trade secret in the United States.
This ruling, which may yet be appealed, gives a powerful new weapon to U.S. companies, who face unfair competition from abroad. Since the law relied upon is not limited to trade secret misappropriation, the impact of the ruling may be quite broad.
If you believe that a product that is being imported by a competitor was produced using unfair acts, you may consider going to the ITC for a faster path to removing that competing product from the U.S. market. Keep in mind that the ITC judgment does not result in damages awards, but in exclusion orders.