The eleventh chapter in Business Adventures by John Brooks is all about stealing company secrets and the invention of the noncompete agreement (read my reviews on chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10)
Well it wasn’t exactly the start of the non-compete agreement… yet when Donald W. Wohlgemuth was lured away from B.F. Goodrich Company by Goodrich’s top competitor in Space Suit manufacturing, Latex. Goodrich sought an injunction on the basis that Wohlgemuth would provide Latex the trade secrets of Goodrich. This sounds like every modern day fight over non-compete agreements and John Brooks points out that the problem of ‘trade secrets’ dates back well before the toss up between Wohlgemuth and B.F. Goodrich.
The Masons had some pretty serious consequences for revealing the secrets of the trade. Eventually though this barrier to entry was overcome and we all live in relatively cheap well built homes. At the time of the lawsuit though, there was a lot of confusion about what it meant to leave Employer A for Employer B and take your knowledge with you. Was having knowledge in itself stealing trade secrets or would stealing trade secrets require Employer B to actually bring to market a product based on research from Employer A?
The court seemed to think that bringing to market was the important part, yet for a budding scientist, bringing your life’s work to market may mean leaving Employer A for Employer B simply because Employer B has the means to actually bring your life’s work to market. This was troubling for young scientists back in the mid-1960s when the lawsuit was ongoing, but now with the addition of non-compete agreements, the ability for a brilliant mind to bring their ideas to market and do so with a company where they can get top dollar for their ideas is much more difficult.
I just finished reading this chapter from John Brooks’ book. I was curious to know how Wohlgemuth’s career played out until his retirement.