Ignorance as a Defence

by Philip Wild on July 11, 2013

Philip Wild

How many times have we seen and heard that according to the law “ignorance is no excuse”? Whether it be the Highway Code or tripping up on some obscure by-law, you’re guilty anyway. Well, says Philip Wild a partner in the Company & Commercial Department at Kidd Rapinet’s London office: “There can in fact be circumstances where ignorance is a perfectly valid defence. Take the recent case of Vestergaard Frandsen SA v Bestnet Europe.”

In the case the Supreme Court judges decided that a former employee, Mrs Sig, was not liable in breach of confidence after leaving her employment and setting up her own business manufacturing insecticidal bednets with a partner, the mysteriously named S, which developed a product using her former employer’s trade secrets. The crucial point was that Mrs Sig was unaware at the time of her employment, and even later, of the trade secrets in question. It was her partner, S, who knew the secrets (being a former employee and consultant biologist to the employers). It was accepted that Mrs Sig had been unaware that S had introduced the trade secrets into their manufacturing process until some way through the court case.

Philip Wild comments: “Quite clearly Mrs Sig’s business had improperly used someone else’s trade secrets, but the highest court in the land allowed Mrs Sig’s defence of being ignorant of their use to succeed. It was not being ignorant of the law but being ignorant of the confidentiality of the information that made the difference. An interesting precedent.”

If you feel you would like to know more about confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, call Philip Wild at Kidd Rapinet on 020 7265 5643 for further information.