In December 2015, the Mercedes Formula 1 team confirmed that they were in the midst of taking legal action against an employee who was due to join their arch-rivals Ferrari at the end of the month.

Benjamin Hoyle was accused of searching and saving Mercedes Formula 1 race data with the intention of transferring this confidential information to Ferrari. 

Mercedes released a statement confirming that “the company has taken the appropriate legal steps to protect its intellectual property".

This is an example of the importance that companies often place on their intellectual property and the steps available to employers to stop employees taking their confidential intellectual property. The steps available to employers in similar scenarios include a High Court injunction to stop the employee from transferring the data to his new company and an injunction to stop the new employer (in the case of Benjamin Hoyle, Ferrari) to use and benefit from the confidential intellectual property. A company's confidential data is often one of its most valuable assets, giving the company the competitive edge in the market. Any misappropriation and misuse can provide a competitor with a significant and unfair advantage, and the employer needs to act quickly to minimise damage or potential damage to its business.

Employers should be aware of behaviour that indicates that employees may be misusing, or considering misusing, confidential information, for example:

  • Working on projects or maintaining regular contact with customers without their line manager's knowledge.

  • Making extensive use of their personal email account or emailing documents to their personal email address.

  • Using a memory card or USB stick at work.

  • Taking documents (whether in hard copy or electronically) out of the employer's premises without authorisation.

  • Working outside their normal working hours, particularly just prior to their employment terminating or when this is not their usual practice.

  • An unusual amount of photocopying. If it is necessary to enter initials or a code before using the copiers it may be possible to detect who has been doing what.

  • Requests for secretaries or other team members to put together business information (for example, lists of customers) without an obvious business reason.

The Hoyle case represents and interesting blend of intellectual property law, breach of contract and employment law.


Click here to return to the IP law area.