Technology: Preventing employee emails from becoming “smoking guns”

Companies must educate employees about the risks of including sensitive information in their electronic communications

When sending emails, it is best to assume that there is no such thing as “private” email—even if you work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Just ask former CIA Director General David Petraeus. Or executives at Apple Inc., which won a huge patent verdict against Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., in large part because of Samsung executives’ internal emails that contained troublesome admissions. It was a costly lesson for Samsung, and it underscores the importance of educating employees about the risks of including sensitive information in emails.

In the Apple v. Samsung smartphone litigation, Apple proved that Samsung had infringed its patents by copying the iPad and iPhone. In post-trial interviews, members of the jury stated that the internal Samsung employee emails were the “most damning.” The emails at issue had been sent by Samsung executives to other Samsung executives, and they discussed which features from the Apple devices Samsung should incorporate in its devices. The emails also discussed the fact that Google Inc. viewed Samsung’s designs as too similar to Apple’s devices, and that changes needed to be made to them.

Contributing Author

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Angie Hankins

Angie M. Hankins is a partner in the Intellectual Property Practice Group of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP’s New York Office. The views expressed...

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