On 4 January 2016, Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court of
Australia, handed down a judgment after hearing an urgent ex parte
application brought by steel producing mogul, BlueScope Steel. The
urgent application was to stop a disgruntled former employee, Ms
Chinnari Sridevi Somanchi, from leaking confidential information
and intellectual property, to competitors.
Ms Somanchi was an employee of BlueScope for 12 years and was
involved in the development of BlueScope intellectual property
(IP). Her position with BlueScope was made redundant on 29 June
In an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald, it was
alleged that in the hours before her redundancy meeting, Ms
Somanchi was suddenly very busy on the phone. BlueScope alleged she
was downloading volumes of confidential information from her
computer- all up over 40 gigabytes of IP and confidential
information over four years, including important codes which could
result in disastrous consequences for BlueScope if they fell into
the wrong hands, such as a serious loss of its competitive
Ms Somanchi relocated to Singapore in November 2015 to take up a
position as Innovation Manager of NS BlueScope Limited, a joint
venture of BlueScope Steel with two other companies. Although
related, BlueScope and the joint venture do not share IP. BlueScope
Steel didn't seek monetary penalties in its urgent application:
the aim of the game was simply to find and secure the information.
The Court granted injunctions to restrain Ms Somanchi and to
require delivery of BlueScope's information, pending further
hearing. Similar orders have been sought in the Singaporean
Seeking these types of search and desist orders from a Court is
a costly process. Therefore, as far as possible, prevention is
better than cure, and the best form of defence is to take action to
protect your confidential information and IP.
First of all, make sure your IP is properly protected through
trade marks or copyright.
Secondly, make sure your employment contracts and internal
policies clearly state that employees have duties to protect that
information, both during and after their employment, and regulating
employee use of electronic devices, especially their own devices.
If there's nothing in the contract, your rights to go to court
will be limited.
Thirdly, make sure you know which employees have access to what
information, who is using what devices, and if necessary, speak to
IT experts to make sure that only those who need to know have
Fourthly, if a relationship with an employee with a lot of
access to sensitive information gets rocky, then take steps
proactively to ensure that their ability to take that information
Fifthly, if such an employee does leave, make sure that all
their means of access to your system are closed off. Employees with
sophisticated IT knowledge and with codes that enable access to
your system may still be taking information, or creating havoc in
your system, after they go.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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