Lancashire Fires Ltd v S A Lyons and Co Ltd: CA 1996

It was claimed that a loan to the employee from a customer of the employer coupled with an exclusive supply agreement by the employee as and when the competing business becomes operative was in breach of an non-compete clause.
Held: The injunction was granted. It was not incumbent on an employer to point out to an employee the precise limits of what he might later seek to protect as confidential information. Distinctions can be hard to draw in this field. Sir Thomas Bingham MR said that it was ‘just that Susan Magnall should be precluded from disclosing the information to others’ and therefore granted an injunction against her, though ‘if the plaintiff seeks financial relief against Susan Magnall, we shall need to hear further argument before deciding the point.’
Sir Thomas Bingham MR said: ‘In Faccenda Chicken (at page 137) the Court of Appeal drew attention to some of the matters which must be considered in determining whether any particular item of information falls within the implied term of a contract of employment so as to prevent its use or disclosure by an employee after his employment has ceased. Those matters included: the nature of the employment: the nature of the information itself: the steps (if any) taken by the employer to impress on the employee the confidentiality of the information: and the case or difficulty of isolating the information in question from other information which the employee is free to use or disclose. We have no doubt that these are all very relevant matters to consider. In the ordinary way, the nearer an employee is to the inner counsels of an employer, the more likely he is to gain access to truly confidential information. The nature of the information itself is also important: to be capable of protection, information must be defined with some degree of precision: and an employer will have great difficulty in obtaining protection for his business methods and practices. If an employer impresses the confidentiality of certain information on his employee, that is an indication of the employer’s belief that the information is confidential, a fact which is not irrelevant: Thomas Marshall Ltd v Guinle [1979] Ch 227 at 248. But much will depend on the circumstances. These may be such as to show that information is or is being treated as, confidential; and it would be unrealistic to expect a small and informal organisation to adopt the same business disciplines as a larger and more bureaucratic concern. It is plain that if an employer is to succeed in protecting information as confidential, he must succeed in showing that it does not form part of an employee’s own stock of knowledge, skill and experience. The distinction between information in Goulding J’s class 2 and information in his class 3 may often on the facts be very hard to draw, but ultimately the court must judge whether an ex-employee has illegitimately used the confidential information which forms part of the stock-in-trade of his former employer either for his own benefit or to the detriment of the former employer, or whether he has simply used his own professional expertise, gained in whole or in part during his former employment.’
Sir Thomas Bingham MR
[1996] FSR 629
England and Wales
Citing:
CitedThomas Marshall (Exports) Ltd v Guinle ChD 1979
The managing director defendant had resigned before the end of the contractual term. There was an express covenant in his contract against using or disclosing the company’s confidential information during or after his employment. It was submitted . .
CitedFaccenda Chicken Ltd v Fowler CA 1986
Nature of Confidentiality in Information
The appellant plaintiff company had employed the defendant as sales manager. The contract of employment made no provision restricting use of confidential information. He left to set up in competition. The company now sought to prevent him using . .

Cited by:
CitedPoeton Industries Ltd and Another v Michael Ikem Horton CA 26-May-2000
The claimant sought damages and an injunction after their former employee set up in business, using, they said, information about their manufacturing procedures and customers obtained whilst employed by them. The defendant appealed the injunction . .
CitedEPI Environmental Technologies Inc and Another v Symphony Plastic Technologies Plc and Another ChD 21-Dec-2004
The claimant had developed an additive which would assist in making plastic bags bio-degradable. They alleged that, in breach of confidentiality agreements, the defendants had copied the product. The defendants said the confidentiality agreement was . .
CitedThomas v Farr Plc and Another CA 20-Feb-2007
The employee, the former chairman of the company, appealed a finding that his contract which restricted his being employed for one year in the same field after termination, was valid and enforceable. The company had provided insurance services to . .
CitedVestergaard Frandsen A/S and Others v Bestnet Europe Ltd and Others SC 22-May-2013
The claimant companies appealed against a reversal of their judgment against a former employee that she had misused their confidential trade secrets after leaving their employment. The companies manufactured and supplied bednets designed to prevent . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 April 2021; Ref: scu.200324