Stuart Gasner Keker & Van Nest
Stuart Gasner Keker & Van Nest ()

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second week of an economic espionage trial unfolding in the Northern District of California, executives of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. recounted how they became suspicious that Oakland entrepreneur Walter Liew had stolen their process for manufacturing titanium dioxide, or TiO2, a commercially valuable white pigment.

Meanwhile, Liew’s lead lawyer, Stuart Gasner, pushed for details on how the company formed what he has previously called an “unholy alliance” with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to gather evidence against Liew and his company, USA Performance Technology Inc.

Liew is accused of stealing Dupont’s manufacturing methods for TiO2 and selling them to entities controlled by the Chinese government. Gasner, a partner at Keker & Van Nest, also used his cross examination to drive home the defense position that much of the information the government classifies as trade secrets is decades-old and detailed in public sources like patents.

Connie Hubbard, DuPont’s competitive intelligence manager, testified that DuPont began monitoring Liew after a consulting firm brought USAPTI to their attention in 2009.

DuPont’s legal department contacted Liew after learning his company had hired former DuPont employees and that his website touted titanium dioxide technology, she testified under questioning from government lawyer Richard Scott. Liew never responded, but mentions of DuPont were subsequently removed from the website, she said. In August 2010, DuPont received an anonymous letter that deepened its suspicions that Liew had stolen the company’s secrets, she added.

But Gasner suggested that the company’s investigation into Liew was flawed from the start and motivated by the desire to stamp out a possible competitor. “Isn’t it true that what bothered you about this company is that you’d never heard of it before,” Gasner asked.

Hubbard agreed but disputed that DuPont had a stranglehold on the market.

Gasner quizzed Hubbard about a meeting between DuPont and the FBI in which the FBI shared a thumb drive of Liew’s files, making the point that the investigation hadn’t respected USAPTI’s sensitive information.

“Do you recall that many of these documents were marked as confidential to USAPTI?” Gasner asked.

“I believe they went through a legal process,” Hubbard said.

“Legal process meaning the FBI had gotten it,” Gasner retorted.

Gasner also prodded Hubbard about the status of the patents referenced in DuPont’s letter to Liew. “Generally speaking, it would be improper to threaten someone with a patent that had expired, correct?” Gasner asked.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White sustained the government’s objection to that remark.

After Hubbard stepped down, Richard Olson, a senior vice president at DuPont, testified about the steps the company takes to preserve the secrecy of its plants, from training employees to escorting visitors to banning cameras at the facilities.

“Our protection of trade secrets is very disciplined and very strong,” he said.

Contact the reporter at jlove@alm.com.