Trade Secret Theft and Misappropriation in the Food Industry

Rarely do we hear about trade secret theft and misappropriation in the food industry. It happens! Read about this high profile case involving a famous food celebrity chef!

Trade Secret Theft in the Food Industry

America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) sues Christopher Kimball for Misappropriation of Trade Secrets

Here is another example of trade secret theft. Check out this blog to see how business and personal emails played a role in the misappropriation of trade secrets. Yes, there is trade secret theft in the food industry!

Who isn’t a fan of cooking shows?

Have you ever watched American’s Test Kitchen (ATK) on public television? In addition to the show, ATK is a multimedia company that has holdings in public television programs such as America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, cooking magazines and books, and several websites? Who knew? We love watching celebrity chefs like Christopher Kimball and other specialized professionals test the great American recipes like meatloaf, roast chicken, and apple pie!

Trade Secret Missappropriation Lawsuit or Foodie Divorce?

Christopher Kimball was the face and personality behind America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country. In November 2015, Kimball left ATK’s program and started his own program called Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. When two parties split it’s called a divorce, well, you guessed it, ATK sued Christopher Kimball, the co-founder, part owner, celebrity chef, and the former host of its TV shows. Almost a year later, America’s Test Kitchen Inc. filed a lawsuit on October 31, 2016, as the Plaintiff. They wanted Kimball to change his business model. We call this a foodie divorce.

ATK said Kimball duplicated what he did on the show on Milk Street and that he misappropriated its trade secrets and breached his fiduciary duty to the company. In addition, they claimed that while Kimball was working at ATK as he actively created his new company Milk Street. According to ATK, Kimball stole its collection of recipes, TV show ideas, media contacts, and subscriber information. As a result, ATK sought damages against Kimball and wanted a large sum of all profits that he has derived through the use of the trade secrets he allegedly misappropriated from America’s Test Kitchen.  Other defendants named were Melissa Baldino, Kimball’s wife and a former executive director of ATK, Christine Gordon, and Deborah Broide. ATK claimed they aided and abetted Kimball’s breach of his fiduciary duties.

Non-Compete Agreement between ATK and Kimball

It seems that ATK and Kimball did not have a formal non-compete agreement in place. To protect intellectual property, corporations use a non-compete agreement where the employee agrees not to enter into competition with the employer during or after employment. If an employee departs and takes intellectual property without permission that’s considered trade secret theft and misappropriation.

It’s all in the Email!

This case is an example of where most evidence of trade secret misappropriation can be found. It’s all in the email! A variety of emails were attached to the complaint that included notes between Gordon and real estate brokers, between Kimball and an IT consultant covering such issues as how to copy and store tons of recipes. There were emails discovered between Broide and Kimball regarding the media lists; between Gordon and the ATK help desk about whether company scanners would keep copies of documents she scanned.

The Foodie Divorce finally settled!

To all our fellow foodies the good news is that both parties settled. Kimball agreed to return his ATK shares to the company for an undisclosed price. In the end, they agreed to business terms that will allow America’s Test Kitchen and Kimball’s company, Milk Street to co-exist. Giving us foodies the benefit of watching both shows!

Enigma Forensics is a computer forensic company with litigation experts that partner with attorneys to represent plaintiffs and defendants to help prove their case. We dig for evidence of trade secret theft or misappropriation of intellectual property. Most of all we are foodies! We found this story about trade secret theft and misappropriation in the food industry fascinating and wanted to share.

To learn more about Trade Secret Misappropriation

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