11th July 2023
Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg might be headed towards fisticuffs in the squared circle, but following the launch of Meta’s latest app Threads, which is reported to bear a striking resemblance to Musk’s Twitter, has the first punch been thrown before the cage door has even shut?
What has happened?
Threads, which launched last week after being pitched as a “friendly” alternative to Twitter, has reportedly been downloaded by more than 30million people in mere days – a feat which we understand took Twitter four years to achieve.
With threats of legal action having arisen over accusations that the new app was developed with the help of former Twitter staff, the question for many business owners is how to avoid landing themselves in a similar predicament and stop others from copying their products, services or practices.
It doesn’t help that Musk’s high-profile takeover of Twitter heralded in a mass cut of staff, with around 80% of staff having been fired according to the billionaire, and with thousands suddenly ejected from their job, it is unsurprising that some would find their way to a competitor and have information, in their head or otherwise that would benefit their new employer.
Every business will have confidential information that is accessible to employees. This isn’t simply forgotten when they walk out the door and leaks, copyright infringement and other forms of misuse can be common if proper steps aren’t taken.
How can I prevent people copying me?
Having the processes in place to prevent current and former employees can go a long way to avoiding problems later on. This includes strict stipulations in employment contracts about the misuse of confidential information (which can apply even after termination of employment) and having secure, regularly updated systems to prevent unauthorised access.
Employers cannot impose any duty of confidence on staff over information already in the public domain as it is not secret, neither can they interfere in information retained in the form of experience and skills being utilised elsewhere once employment has ended.
Confidential information, however in the form of trade secrets such as secret manufacturing processes, formulae and the like, may not be used by the employee whilst they remain secret for anything other than the benefit of the employer – and this obligation extends beyond the course of their employment. By educating employees on their responsibilities and obligations through appropriate training, it can help deter breaches of confidentiality later on.
It is advisable for businesses to conduct audits of what confidential information employees had access to when they look to depart and should return all electronic and physical copies in their possession, given they remain the property of the employer. In the time leading up to an employee’s departure, it is also prudent to monitor or limit the information they have access to in order to avoid any risk of unauthorised reproduction of such information.
What do I do if I think someone has copied me?
If you believe that anyone, whether a current employee, former employee or otherwise, could have breached their confidentiality obligations, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Quick action can often solve problems before they have the potential to manifest, such as filing for an injunction to block confidential data from being used in competing products.
It is also important to avoid any interaction with the suspected parties, avoiding any public or private engagement with associated former employees or their new employers, and let this be
settled by legal representation. Otherwise you could find yourself inadvertently having a negative impact on your own legal case.
Thrings’ Intellectual Property lawyers are experienced in safeguarding brands and trademarks from infringement and has successfully advised multinational organisations on a range of matters from IP disputes, including copyright infringement, and trademark registration to managing diverse portfolios and worldwide expansions. To find out how they can help protect your IP rights, get in touch.
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