October 30, 2011 - Brian Hanna and Michael Nolan were sales managers with Groupon, the world's largest online coupon site, until about a month ago. Then they left the company and went to work for Google Offers - where, Groupon alleges, they took valuable trade secrets from their former employer.
After Google failed to buy Groupon last year, it created a similar website called Google Offers. Ex-Groupon employees Hanna and Nolan went to work for Google Offers, providing "the same or similar services as they provided at Groupon" according to Groupon's complaint.
Groupon claims that the employees signed an employment agreement which bars them from revealing confidential information and/or soliciting former clients for two years after the end of their employment with Groupon. Groupon also alleges that the two employees did not return certain confidential information and that Hanna emailed himself client information on his last day of employment at Groupon.
The three requirements for a protectable trade secret are that the information be secret, that the owner take reasonable steps (such as a confidentiality agreement) to protect it, and that the information should not be publicly available.
If, as Groupon claims, the information was developed as a result of "substantial research" over time, Groupon's lawsuit may prove successful. The key will be whether the two ex-employees passed those trade secrets on to Google.