Perfumer Dodges Flavor Behemoth's $80M Trade Secrets Suit
After a long and hard-fought jury trial featuring more than a half-dozen law firms, the fragrance and flavor giant Givaudan SA lost an $80 million trade secrets case last week against a former employee and his new company.
A federal jury in Trenton returned a verdict on Thursday that perfumer James Krivda and his new company Mane USA Inc. didn't misappropriate Givaudan's proprietary fragrance formulas. The defense successfully argued that Krivda has been coming up with unique fragrances since joining Mane, rather than stealing ideas from his former company.
At least seven firms duked it out during the five-week jury trial, which offered jurors a glimpse into the high-stakes but mostly invisible world of fragrance creation. Thompson Hine; Morgan Lewis & Bockius; Greenberg Traurig; and Day Pitney represented Givaudan. Mane was represented by Litchfield Cavo and another firm. McCarter & English made the case for Krivda.
Krivda is a prominent perfumer with three decades of experience. From 2005 to 2008, he served as a vice president in the New York City office of Givaudan, a global fragrance and flavor powerhouse with more than 9,000 employees and $4 billion in annual sales. (The company was featured in a fascinating 2009 New Yorker article about the flavor industry.) Givaudan alleges that after Krvida announced his resignation in April 2008, he spent his final days at the company printing out hundreds of fragrance recipes from a secure database. Soon after, Krivda began working at New Jersey–based Mane, prompting Givaudan to sue for trade secrets theft in September 2008.
When the trial kicked off in January, Givaudan alleged that its proprietary information had become the basis for 34 fragrances Krivda launched at Mane. Givauda's lawyers sought $80 million in damages, calling the case "one of the most egregious thefts of trade secrets by a departing employee ever witnessed in the state of New Jersey."
Krivda and Mane's lawyers focused on undercutting an expert witness retained by Givaudan to point out similarities in the products. "I think our cross-examination of plaintiff's expert witness may have been a turning point," said Adam Saravay of McCarter & English, who represented Krivda. "We were able to point out significant discrepancies in his analysis."
The trial lasted five weeks, but jurors sided with the defense after just three-and-a-half hours of deliberation. "The defendants obviously had more limited resources," said Saravay. "A smart, strategic approach prevailed over a spare-no-expense approach."
Thad Barnes of Stites & Harbison, who represented Mane, said that his client feels vindicated by the verdict. Mane was also represented by a Litchfield Cavo team led by John Shea.
Deborah Brenneman of Thompson Hine, who represented Givaudan, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.