Tommy Lee in a Motley Mess

A trade secret misappropriation lawsuit was filed against rock star drummer Tommy Lee and his band Motley Crue. Howard King claims that in 1991 he developed an idea and concept for a “Tommy Lee Loop Coaster,” a platform on wheels that follows a loop-shaped track. A drum set is attached to the wheeled platform and follows the track in a complete loop, allowing the drummer to play the drums upside down. King alleged that he disclosed the idea to Lee in 1991, and subsequently received signed confidentiality agreements (which have been misplaced or lost) from Lee’s agents.

To be beneficial, nondisclosure agreements should be signed before the secret is revealed, not after. These documents must also be maintained and safeguarded.

King tries to fall within trade secret law by alleging that he has since maintained the secrecy of his idea and only disclosed the idea as necessary to implement it. King alleges that the defendants disclosed the purported trade secret to another company, which made a similar loop coaster for use by Tommy Lee at his concerts. He alleges that the idea is the centerpiece of many performances and was used in commercial and promotions for the band.

The absence of the actual written agreements puts this case in a gray area. First, most nondisclosure agreements have a limited period for maintaining the confidentiality. Second, not all agreements contain non-use covenants. It will be interesting to see how the court deals with the absent confidentiality agreements, especially since the parties may have difficulty remembering the exact terms and provisions of any purported confidentiality obligations. This case also demonstrates the weakness in relying on a confidentiality agreement instead of a provisional patent application to protect the idea. It is unlikely that the one built for Tommy Lee was exactly like the concept described by King. The scope of the protection the exact details of the invention are not precisely known, my guess is they legally designed around his apparatus. You can’t own an idea, only the way of carrying it out. This will be a difficult case for King on many levels. We will keep you posted on this entertaining case.