China: 企业商业秘密维权司法途径之选择——劳动仲裁 or 诉讼?

Last Updated: 22 January 2018
Article by Aaron Yizhou Deng

商业秘密(含知识产权)对于世界各国企业和组织的重要性,可谓无论如何强调也不为过。对于大多数企业而言,商业秘密是其生存和发展根基,关乎其核心竞争力,具有生死攸关的战略意义。失去了核心商业秘密,几乎意味着企业的死亡。因此,关于商业秘密的法律纠纷常常涉及高额索赔,呈现白热化状态。

近日,又有媒体报道称 1,某著名互联网搜索公司(简称"某搜索公司")以侵害商业秘密构成不正当竞争为案由,将其自动驾驶事业部前总经理王某及其在美国经营的公司起诉至知识产权法院,要求停止侵害商业秘密,其索赔金额高达5000万元!某搜索公司诉称其与王某曾签订有竞业限制和保密协议,但王某离职后未遵守竞业限制义务,反而经营与该公司具有竞争关系的企业,因而侵害了其商业秘密。据悉,法院已受理此案。目前尚未有被告方答辩意见的报道。

一、商业秘密维权的两种司法途径

笔者无意评论上述案件本身,但此案再次引起人们对商业秘密保护司法途径的检讨。实践中,企业与员工之间有关商业秘密纠纷主要通过两种司法程序解决。一是打劳动争议仲裁,案由为违反竞业限制义务,可要求实际履行竞业限制(从竞争对手单位离职),并支付约定的违约金;二是直接向法院起诉,案由为不正当竞争,可要求停止商业秘密侵权,并可主张损害赔偿金。

由于存在诉的竞合,维权者只能选择前述其中一种途径。"To be or not to be, that is the question. "前文某搜索公司的案子,看上去本是一起关于竞业限制的劳动纠纷,为什么却以不正当竞争为由直接告到法院,而未到劳动仲裁呢?

事实上,面临相同处境的企业很多,也常常纠结于这二者之间的抉择。如何选择最佳司法手段,最大限度维护自己的商业秘密权,这是商业秘密权利人尤其是著名企业要面临的一个法律策略性问题。解决得好,全盘皆活;解决不好,全盘皆输。真所谓"兵者,国之大事,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。"

笔者早年在拙著《劳动用工管理典型案例、经验教训与风险应对》(中国法制出版社,2010年10月首版)第185-193页中,已通过案例比较研究对前述选择进行了初步探讨,但仅探究了举证负担问题。本文拟在此基础上,更为全面的检视两种司法途径的优劣及企业的运用策略。

二、商业秘密与竞业限制不同的法律特征

为最大限度保护商业秘密(包括知识产权),企业通常不惜成本,采取各种法律措施。从法律专业角度看,第一道防线是非诉手段的预防措施。对内而言,主要通过订立相关协议,要求员工(含管理层)承担保守商业秘密及/或竞业限制义务这两种方式。 第二道防线则是员工发生违约或侵权后,企业选择正确适当的司法维权路径。本文探讨的就是第二道防线。

而司法路径选择这一难题,源于保守商业秘密与竞业限制协议属于两种不同的法律关系。因此,首先需要了解两种基础法律关系的不同特点:

(一)客体不同。

劳动关系中,员工保守商业秘密义务的客体自然是雇主的商业秘密权;竞业限制义务的客体则是"竞业行为",即从事某种具有竞争关系的专业、业务,或经营某种产品或服务的行为。当然,二者客体虽有不同,但又存在紧密联系。竞业限制制度的法律动机和"制度价值",依然是为了保护商业秘密权。

(二)内容不同。

商业秘密保密义务要求保密义务人不得泄露、使用、许可他人使用或以其他非法方式侵害原用人单位商业秘密,但并不禁止义务人离职后的"竞业行为";竞业限制义务则要求义务人离职后不得设立竞争企业或到竞争企业效劳或持股等"竞业行为",是一种更为全面和激进的商业秘密保护方法。

(三)主体不同。

"商业秘密"权是 "绝对权"、"对世权",一切世人都负有不得侵犯的义务;而"竞业限制"属于 "相对权"、"对人权",基于约定而生,其义务主体仅限于劳动者(因为订立竞业限制协议的主体是劳动者与原用人单位)。

可见,二者在法律特征上的核心区别,在于范围不同。商业秘密仅针对商业秘密本身,而竞业限制仅作为商业秘密保护的手段,虽然大大超出商业秘密本身的范围,涉及到对劳动者自由择业权的限制,但并不直接针对商业秘密,这很重要。

三、侵害商业秘密与违反竞业限制的不同表征

两种法律关系不同的特征,导致法律关系发生变动(即出现侵权或违约)时的表征(法律术语叫作"构成要件")各不相同。违反保守商业秘密义务,表现为泄露、使用或允许第三人(实践中主要是员工的新用人单位)使用原用人单位的商业秘密。至于侵权人是否加入到原用人单位的竞争对手,则在所不问。比较而言,违反竞业限制义务,则仅表现为加入到原用人单位的竞争对手,或者从事与原用人单位相竞争的业务。至于是否同时侵害了原用人单位商业秘密,则非所问。

因此,商业秘密侵权的构成要件有四个:

" 原告的"商业秘密"符合《反不正当竞争法》所定义的"商业秘密"构成要件(即"不为公众所知悉、具有商业价值、经权利人采取相应保密措施的技术信息和经营信息"这三个条件);

  • 被告实施了侵权行为;
  • 原告的商业秘密受到损害;
  • 被告侵权行为与原告损害之间存在法律因果关系。

而违反竞业限制的构成要件有两个:

  • 双方订立有竞业限制协议;
  • 被告(前员工)有违约行为,加入原单位的竞争对手。

至于被告违约是否造成原告损失,以及被告是否实际侵害原告商业秘密,则在所不问。

可见,比较而言,违反竞业限制的构成要件要简单很多。

四、举证责任及难度的比较

诉讼中的举证责任分配,是基于争议事实的构成要件(要素)而确定的。由于商业秘密与竞业限制具有上文所述的显著区别,导致起诉企业的举证责任与难度亦相应不同。

首先,由于商业秘密侵权诉讼的依据是《反不正当竞争法》,而非劳动法,维权者应向知识产权法院或者基层法院知识产权庭起诉"不正当竞争"案由 2。而竞业限制是劳动法调整的范畴,发生纠纷时自然应首先提起劳动仲裁,而不能直接去法院起诉。

其次,依"谁主张、谁举证"的证明原则,商业秘密侵权民事诉讼的原告,需要证明商业秘密侵权的四个构成要件才能胜诉;而在竞业限制劳动仲裁中,用人单位仅需证明两项构成要件即可胜诉。换言之,在认定是否违反竞业限制义务时,可不考虑商业秘密因素,从而绕开了这个难以逾越的暗礁,原用人单位只需证明劳动者到竞争企业就职这一事实即可 3

再次,举证难度也不同。

(一)竞业限制劳动争议举证难度。竞业限制都签订有书面协议,因此容易举证证明第一个构成要件。证明劳动者有"竞业行为"是否困难?

也不难。如果劳动者离职后到原单位的竞争对手任职,自然仍在同行业、同圈子。笔者代理这类案件时发现,实践中常常是原单位的客户、供应商等商业伙伴有意无意间为原单位提供了线索。并且,他们也常常愿意协助证明劳动者到竞争对手工作的事实。

而且,即便没有这种线索,也容易调查出劳动者到竞争对手工作的情况。比如,可申请仲裁庭或法庭调取劳动者社保、公积金缴纳情况。由于社保、公积金缴纳主体为用人单位,因此也就容易发现劳动者现在的用人单位是谁。再比如,通过调查劳动者个税缴纳情况、工资发放情况,也同样容易发现其现用人单位的情况。

(二) 商业秘密侵权诉讼的举证难度。

首先看看侵权行为的证明是否困难。如果劳动者在离职后违反竞业限制协议,假使其在新单位使用或允许使用了原单位的商业秘密,因其明知这种行为见不得光,必然采取十分隐秘的方式,及时消除蛛丝马迹。其与新单位也是"一根绳上的蚂蚱",容易订立攻守同盟。因此,原用人单位难以取得商业秘密侵权行为方面的证据。

此外,商业秘密是否符合法律定义的要素,受害一方主张的经济损失是否是直接由侵权行为所导致的,在司法实践中证明难度也较大。因此,商业秘密侵权的四个要件,证明难度都相对较大。

虽然笔者代理的商业秘密(不正当竞争)诉讼也有胜诉的案例,但据知产宝数据库 4统计,2012年以来,商业秘密侵权类诉讼案件原告胜诉率仅为33.1%,远远低于全国知识产权类诉讼原告胜诉率。主要原因就在于此。

在"证据为王"的司法程序中,认识了二者举证难度的差异,就容易决定二者的取舍了。

五、其他考量因素

除二者举证责任异同外,还可考量的因素有:

(一)可获得法律救济的范围。就经济性救济而言,商业秘密侵权之诉的原告可主张损害赔偿金,而且其金额没有法律限制,上不封顶。

竞业限制劳动争议中,申请人仅可主张"违约金"。《劳动合同法》第二十三条规定,"劳动者违反竞业限制约定的,应当按照约定向用人单位支付违约金。"可否主张因违反竞业限制导致的损失?法律对此无明确规定。如果未约定违约金,则可主张损害赔偿,但申请人应承担实际损失的举证责任;如果约定了违约金,但申请人又认为实际造成的损失大于约定的违约金,因而另行主张高于违约金的那部分损失,则理论上可以,但由于劳动法上主张损害赔偿的法律依据比较模糊 5,导致裁判机构要求的举证义务比较苛严,因此损害赔偿金难以获得支持。

那问题来了:可否在竞业限制协议中将违约金约定成一个较高的金额?法律对此并不禁止,但因 "违约金"是《合同法》概念,而《合同法》又规定,如果约定的违约金过分高于实际损失额,当事人可要求调低。依司法解释,如果约定违约金高于实际损失30%,则可认定为"过分高于"。因此,高额违约金是否有效,仍取决于违约所造成的实际损失额,这就大大消弱了高额违约金条款的预期功能。

总之,竞业限制违约金一般不能主张太高的金额,而商业秘密侵权所主张的赔偿金却无限制。

(二)诉讼时效:侵犯商业秘密的"不正当竞争"之诉,在《民法总则》(2017年10月1日起实施)实施之前适用二年、实施之后适用三年的时效。而依《劳动争议调解仲裁法》,竞业限制劳动争议案件,应适用一年仲裁时效,大大短于前者。

六、结语

如上所述,竞业限制劳动仲裁案件比较容易完成举证责任,而商业秘密侵权(不正当竞争)诉讼则较难完成证明责任,导致商业秘密诉讼实践中胜诉率偏低。单从举证角度考虑,维权者一般可优先考虑通过竞业限制劳动仲裁来维护商业秘密。

但是,如果竞业限制劳动仲裁的时效期限已过,则只能选择直接提起商业秘密侵权(不正当竞争)之诉。或者,如果竞业限制约定的劳动者违约应付"违约金"过低,而实际造成的损失比"违约金"更高甚至高出许多,并且有证据支持,则不宜再坚持打竞业限制劳动争议,而可考虑虽然举证难度较大但经济赔偿金额无限制的商业秘密侵权(不正当竞争)之诉。

Footnotes

[1] 详见知产力网站报道:http://news.zhichanli.cn/article/5502.html

[2] 这并不是绝对的。如果用人单位与劳动者约定了保密义务及违约责任,用人单位也可走劳动仲裁程序。

[3] 参见笔者拙著《劳动用工管理典型案例、经验教训与风险应对》,中国法制出版社,2010年10月首版,第188页。

[4] http://www.iphouse.cn/

[5] 因竞业限制损害赔偿金没有明确法律依据,故仅能依据"法无明文禁止不违法"的一般性法理进行主张。而中国法官或仲裁员并不青睐所谓的"法理"。

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The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

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