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Intellectual Property Litigation Regulation Trade Secrets

Alleging the Existence of a Trade Secret in a Misappropriation Case

The Detail Dilemma

How much detail does it take to allege a trade secret under federal pleadings standards? Can the alleged trade secret be described generally in the complaint or must it be described in detail? This article analyzes the various considerations that inform a court’s viewpoint on the issue. Lawyers who litigate trade secret cases should be well-aware of these considerations.


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In today’s strong economy, where employee mobility is common, courts are finding their case dockets crowded with misappropriation lawsuits under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) (18 U.S.C. §1836 et seq.) and state trade secret laws. Many of these cases have the same fact pattern: an unhappy employee decides to leave for a better job, but not before downloading from his or her work computer company information and walking out the door with it. The former employer files a lawsuit against the employee (and often the new employer) in federal court under the DTSA. The defendants then elect to file a motion to dismiss the complaint, alleging that the plaintiff did not sufficiently allege the existence of a trade secret.

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