By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 13, 2009
Earlier this year, Hilton Hotels shipped eight boxes to Starwood Hotels
and Resorts. Companies don't typically send much mail to their
competitors, and Starwood's general counsel discovered something odd in
the boxes: thousands of Starwood documents and electronic files.
Lawyers from Hilton, which is moving to Tysons Corner from Beverly Hills
this summer, included a letter saying they found the material in the
homes and offices of star employees the firm had recruited from
Starwood. The material, according to the letter, had been reviewed and
didn't seem all that sensitive. Hilton was returning it "in an abundance
Starwood's attorneys did not agree. They hit Hilton with a 91-page
lawsuit alleging "the clearest imaginable case of corporate espionage,"
saying that "the sheer volume of theft is extraordinary, and may be
unprecedented." The files included Starwood's strategic development
plans and materials for a boutique hotel using the words "zen den."
Hilton allegedly drew from the material, apparently using a little
wordplay, in developing a hip new boutique hotel called Denizen.
"This complaint reads more like a novel," said Jeff Riffer, a Los
Angeles attorney and former chair of the American Bar Association's
trade secrets subcommittee. "It's pretty unusual that senior executives
at one company are going to take a lot of documents and go to a
competitor, where they appear to set up the same idea."
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