Trade Secret Lessons from Johnny Manziel

Posted by Neal F. Weinrich on

Most sports fans have now heard the latest on Johnny Manziel. He was supposed to be at the Browns’ facility this past Sunday morning to meet with doctors as part of the concussion protocol.  Instead he was apparently in Las Vegas partying.  To try to avoid being recognized, he supposedly wore a blonde wig around the casinos.  When rumors began circulating on social media that he was in Las Vegas, he posted a picture on Instagram of him and his dog cuddling on the floor.  He added the hashtag #SaturdayNights and a geo-tag indicating that he was in Ohio, ostensibly to try to ward off the rumors about him being in Las Vegas.  It appears no one bought it, including the Browns.  This incident followed several others this season where Johnny Manziel had apparently misrepresented his activities to the Browns’ organization.

What does Johnny Manziel wearing a blonde wig in Las Vegas have to do with trade secret cases? Most trade secret cases involve employees taking electronic information from their former employer.  These employees often think they will not get caught.  Those employees who think they are being especially shrewd will try to hide the evidence of their improper activities, by hard-deleting the email where they sent sensitive company information to their personal e-mail address, or by “wiping” the device on which the information theft took place.

However, a computer forensic expert can usually easily discover the employees’ improper digital activities, or at a minimum, discover the employees’ efforts to hide their misconduct (i.e. the deletion or wiping). Departing employees may thus believe that they are getting away with stealing trade secrets, when in actuality their misconduct will likely be easily uncovered.  The employee who believes he or she can steal company information digitally without getting caught or leaving a trace is very similar to Johnny Manziel believing that a blonde wig and an Instagram picture would hide the fact that he was apparently in Las Vegas partying when he was supposed to be in Cleveland.

The message to departing employees is clear: do not be like Johnny Football. If you misappropriate trade secrets, you will likely get caught.