Note: This page covers information specific to the District of Columbia. See the Trade Secrets overview for more general information.
The District of Columbia Uniform Trade Secrets Act ("DUTSA") is located in chapter 4 of title 36 of the District of Columbia Official Code. DUTSA is largely identical to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. For generally applicable information on trade secrets claims and defenses, see Basics of a Trade Secret Claim and Publishing Trade Secrets.
Like the Uniform Trade Secret Act, DUTSA prohibits "misappropriation" of trade secrets and provides certain remedies.
D.C. Code § 36-401 (link is to entire code; you need to click through to title 36, chapter 4, and then choose the specific provision) defines the key terms of the Act:
(1) "Improper means" means theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means.
(2) "Misappropriation" means:
- (A) Acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means; or
- (B) Disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent by a person who:
- (i) Used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret; or
- (ii) At the time of disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that the trade secret was:
- (I) Derived from or through a person who had utilized improper means to acquire it;
- (II) Acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain its secrecy or limit its use;
- (III) Derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain its secrecy or limit its use; or
- (iii) Before a material change in his or her position, knew or had reason to know that the information was a trade secret and knowledge of the trade secret had been acquired by accident or mistake.
(4) "Trade secret" means information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that:
- (A) Derives actual or potential independent economic value, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by, proper means by another who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and
- (B) Is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.
For generally applicable information on how a trade secrets claim works, see Basics of a Trade Secret Claim.
- Injunctive Relief: DUTSA empowers a court to order a defendant to stop violating the plaintiff's rights and to take steps to preserve the secrecy of the plaintiff's information. See D.C. Code § 36-402 (link is to entire code; you need to click through to title 36, chapter 4, and then choose the specific provision). Most importantly, this means that a court has the authority, as far as the law of trade secrets goes, to order you to stop publishing someone's trade secrets if it finds that your publication amounts to misappropriation. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may limit the court's authority to do so, however. For details, see Publishing Trade Secrets.
- Damages: A court can make a defendant pay money damages to the plaintiff for the economic harm suffered as a result of a trade secret violation. This may include the plaintiff's losses resulting from the misappropriation and the defendant's profits derived from it. In lieu of those damages, a court can also order a losing defendant to pay a royalty to the trade secret owner. If the court determines that the defendant acted willfully or maliciously, it may award the plaintiff punitive damages in an amount up to twice its actual damages. See D.C. Code § 36-403 (link is to entire code; you need to click through to title 36, chapter 4, and then choose the specific provision).
- Attorneys' Fees:- If a plaintiff sues and wins, the court may award attorneys' fees if it finds that the defendant acted willfully or maliciously. On the other hand, if the defendant wins, the court may award attorneys' fees if it finds that the plaintiff acted in bad faith when filing the lawsuit. The court may also award attorneys' fees if a motion to terminate an injunction is made or resisted in bad faith. See D.C. Code § 36-404 (link is to entire code; you need to click through to title 36, chapter 4, and then choose the specific provision).
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for a trade secret claim in the District of Columbia is three years. See D.C. Code § 36-406 (link is to entire code; you need to click through to title 36, chapter 4, and then choose the specific provision).