Lee Davis: 6th Circuit Hears Criminal Trade Secrets Case Concerning Giant Tires

Friday, February 15, 2013 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis

You might not think a case about giant tires would have much to do with criminal law, but a recent case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning criminal trade secrets involved just that. The case, U.S. v. Howley, involves a trade secrets prosecution under 18 U.S.C. Section 1832(a). The two men at the center of the case, Sean Edward Howley and Clark Alan Roberts, were convicted of stealing trade secrets and engaging in wire fraud.

The case involved engineers who worked for Wyko, an American company that provides parts to tire manufacturers like Goodyear. Apparently the story began when a government owned Chinese company wanted to get in on the giant tire building business.

Tires for huge earthmovers and giant bulldozers are incredibly expensive, complicated items that are only produced by a handful of companies around the world.

While servicing some of the Goodyear machines, Howley and Roberts (who had already signed confidentiality agreements with Goodyear) snuck some pictures. This information was combined with sketches Wyko already obtained from a former Goodyear employee of the machines used to make the tires. This was enough to allow Wyko to start working on a machine of their own for the Chinese company.

In a curious twist, Howley and Roberts claimed that they never stole trade secrets, despite clear evidence of their photographs. The two argued that a trade secret was only a trade secret when the person who owns it has taken measures to secure the information and if the supposedly secret information has value because it is not widely known. The Sixth Circuit flatly rejected the defendants’ arguments, saying that the information was securely kept, pointing out that both had been required to sign a confidentiality agreement and to specifically agree not to take any pictures during their visit to the plant. Moreover, the secret was economically valuable given the lengths Wyko and the Chinese company went to obtain it.

More bad news for the defendants came when the government cross-appealed their sentence, originally a four-month period of home confinement. According to prosecutors, the issue was that the sentence did not match the value of the criminal act. There were three estimates of damage provided by the government: the contract price between the Chinese firm and Wyko - $305,000; the price of Goodyear to make the equipment - $520,000; and finally, Goodyear’s annual sales of the giant tires - $20 million.

The lower court never fully grappled with the estimates given by prosecutors, saying they had failed to prove any economic loss, and decided to simply give Howley and Roberts the minimum sentence allowed. The Sixth Circuit disagreed with the lower court, saying that while it may be difficult to fix the value of a trade secret, the lower court should have at least tried. Even the lowest estimate provided by the prosecution would have resulted in a 37 to 46 month prison sentence. The Court then decided to remand the case for resentencing.

To read the full opinion, click here.

---

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


Georgia Ranked Sixth Nationally For Job Growth

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that  Georgia is ranked sixth nationally and third in the Southeast for top job growth. With the creation of over 79,300 new jobs in the past 12 months, Georgia represents a strong 2.0 percent annual growth rate, which is higher than the nation’s average of 1.8 percent. Georgia also had solid ... (click for more)

Tennessee's Unemployment Rate For August Increased To 7.4%

Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced the Tennessee preliminary unemployment rate for August was 7.4 percent, three tenths of one percentage point higher than the 7.1 July revised rate. The U.S. preliminary rate for August was 6.1 percent, down from 6.2 percent in July. Economic Summary • Over the past year, Tennessee's unemployment ... (click for more)

Inmate Found Dead In County Jail Early Saturday Morning

An inmate died in the Hamilton County jail Saturday morning. Notification was received from the Hamilton County 911 Center at   12:50 a.m. ,   regarding an inmate found unresponsive.   Jail personnel found the male inmate unresponsive in his cell and initiated C.P.R. while notifying Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services. The party ... (click for more)

Democratic Chairman Roy Herron Announces He Will Not Run For 2nd Term

Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron announced Saturday at a meeting of the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee that he would not be seeking a second term as party chairman. “I have been blessed to serve as chairman these past two years, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all of the executive committee members, party officials, staff members, and friends ... (click for more)

You’re Right With Lamar

One of Tennessee’s favorite sons, Davy Crockett, coined an oft-used phrase:  “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Being sure is quite important, but may be difficult in this election cycle. The Democratic nominee campaigning against Lamar Alexander is a man whose radio ads call for “change,” “fair” taxes and more jobs.  Sounds good, huh?   ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Okay … here we go. A number of readers have complained that I haven’t shared any jokes that my friends send to my email address so on a weekend when our Volunteers and Mocs are idle, let’s laugh a little:   I was sitting in a bar one afternoon with an old friend knocking back a few beers when he said, "You know, if we're not careful we'll end up like those two old drunks ... (click for more)