(From the July 25, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—If there's one thing that's not a secret in the rubber industry, it's that the business loves its secrets. From the “black art” that goes into making a rubber compound to the proprietary setups that make a company's process unique, those in the industry go to great lengths to keep these secrets.
In recent years, much of the concern has centered on the theft of proprietary information and trade secrets when doing business with firms in developing nations. But there also have been other cases where the threat—sometimes real, sometimes perceived—came from within. This is highlighted in an ongoing court case involving tire company rivals Goodyear and Continental.
Goodyear first brought suit against Conti, which had hired away an employee from Goodyear's Topeka, Kan., tire facility to go work at Conti's Mount Vernon, Ill., plant. Goodyear said the worker had access to the inner workings of its manufacturing process and had signed a non-disclosure agreement that would allow Goodyear to prevent him from working for a competitor for two years.
Goodyear refused the employee's request for a waiver of the agreement, but the manager left anyway, and in a legal brief claimed Goodyear had forced him to sign the agreement after he started work at Topeka.
The court will have several conflicting issues to resolve, especially given that it's common in the tire and rubber industry for staff to move from one employer to another. On one hand, companies need to have the right to protect trade secrets. But workers' rights to move to other jobs can't be completely shut down, especially in a business climate where companies are quick to pull the trigger on layoffs and cutbacks.
The rubber industry will need to keep a close eye as the case is decided. It will have a big impact on how they recruit from their competitors.