Twitter’s accusation that Meta Platforms stole trade secrets to develop its new microblogging site may initiate a legal battle between the two social media giants. However, legal experts suggest that Twitter would face significant challenges if it decides to sue.
In a letter sent on Wednesday, Twitter claimed that Meta had utilized its trade secrets to create Threads, its new social media platform. Twitter alleged that Meta had hired numerous former Twitter employees who had “improperly retained” devices and documents from Twitter. Furthermore, Twitter accused Meta of purposefully assigning these individuals to work on Threads.
At present, it remains unclear whether Twitter intends to file a lawsuit in response to these allegations.
A Twitter spokesperson has not yet responded to requests for comments. On the other hand, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone stated in a Threads post on Thursday that none of the individuals on the site’s engineering team have previously worked for Twitter.
Legal experts argue that proving trade secret theft in cases where a company hires former employees and creates a similar product is extremely challenging.
In order to succeed, a company must demonstrate that its competitor appropriated information that held economic value and that the company had made “reasonable efforts” to maintain its secrecy, according to Polk Wagner, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
However, determining what qualifies as a “reasonable effort” can be complex, Wagner added.
“The courts have made it clear that you can’t simply claim that something is a trade secret. On the other hand, you don’t have to excessively restrict access to the information,” Wagner explained.
Meta recently launched Threads, a social media platform that could pose a significant threat to Twitter. Twitter has faced criticism from users and advertisers since billionaire Elon Musk acquired the microblogging site last year.
Threads shares some similarities with Twitter, as do various other social media platforms that have emerged in recent months.
Courts often consider whether a company effectively communicated to its employees that specific information was considered a trade secret.
Sharon Sandeen, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, noted that companies have lost trade secret cases when they argued that comprehensive agreements designated all the company’s information as confidential.
According to Sandeen, such sweeping language fails to provide employees with a clear understanding of what is and isn’t confidential.
Experts emphasize that many companies pursue trade secret cases only to discover that their claims are weaker than anticipated.
Sandeen highlighted the high-profile legal dispute between Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving vehicle unit and ride-share company Uber Technologies. Initially, the case involved allegations of thousands of stolen documents, but ultimately focused on only a few.
Ultimately, Uber settled the case just prior to trial, paying $245 million (nearly Rs. 2,000 crore) worth of its own shares.
Trials for trade secret cases are rare, with settlements being the more typical outcome, according to Wagner.
“The incentives to settle in these types of cases are particularly strong because no one wants their secrets discussed more than necessary,” Wagner remarked.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
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Deepak Sen is a tech enthusiast who covers the latest technological innovations, from AI to consumer gadgets. His articles provide readers with a glimpse into the ever-evolving world of technology.