When I think of trade secret cases I tend to think of “high end” stuff: secret manufacturing processes, software algorithms, chemical or biological secrets, maybe even the formulas for Coca Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken. The truth, however, is more mundane, as shown by a case decided by Judge Nicholson in Barnstable County. In this case, which was dismissed in favor of the defendant hair stylist on summary judgment, the court held that a hair salon’s hair color formulas and customer contact information were not trade secrets. This was an easy case, since the stylist knew many of her clients socially outside the salon and there was no employment or secrecy agreement other than an employee handbook, which is a weak basis on which to make a trade secret claim. After all, how many employees read handbooks? The judge also ruled that the hair color formulas belonged to the stylist who had developed them for the salon’s clients, not the salon, since there was no agreement to assign the formulas to the salon. I find this latter rationale suspect, since “inventions” created within scope of employment and while on the job typically belong to the employer. However, I question whether the color formulas qualify as trade secrets in the first place. Case closed.
Esalon, Inc. v. Isolde Hoffman