UBC Theses and Dissertations
Legal rights to information and skilled employees in the computer industry Smeltzer, Gerald Gilbert
Canada is currently experiencing the transition to a post-industrial society as the result of the wide spread introduction of information related technologies. This thesis focuses on the legal rights to information of skilled employees who work with modern computer technology. The objective is to assess the adequacy of existing laws to meet the needs of employers and employees and to serve the public interest. The initial chapters concentrate on the legal principles of trade secrets and breach of confidence as applied to the employment relationship. Patent and copyright protection for software is briefly reviewed but not emphasized. Against this background, the major portion of the thesis examines the delicate balance between the legal interests of the employer, the employee and the public. Any attempt by employers to limit post employment use of information by employees invokes the doctrine of restraint of trade. This doctrine recognizes an employee's right to use the knowledge and skills developed during employment for the benefit of other employers. The thesis examines the elements of the restraint of trade doctrine as applied to skilled employees in the computer industry. The creation and development of software is used throughout the thesis to illustrate legal principles. Employers such as software developers are extremely vulnerable to misappropriation of confidential information by their employees. Such employers rely heavily upon the use of restrictive covenants in employment agreements to limit disclosure and to prevent future competition. The remedies for an employee's breach of confidence are reviewed. This chapter concludes that the legal principles governing interlocutory injunctions are inadequate to properly protect the information employer. The thesis concludes that the present Canadian law is increasingly inadequate to protect a computer industry employer against an employee's unauthorized appropriation of confidential information. In short, the law has not yet recognized the social and technological changes that have greatly increased the vulnerability of the information employer. If neither the courts nor the legislatures take action, information employers will have to further increase their reliance on the limited and uncertain protection of restrictive covenants in employment agreements.
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