General Arrangement (GA) drawings indicate the main dimensions of a model from the most appropriate viewpoints, which include setting out and check reference dimensions, section sizes, necessary assembly references and/or magnified views of complex details.
These drawings were the highlight of a recent case brought by PH Hydraulics & Engineering Pte Ltd (the plaintiff) against its former employee, Mr Rinov Herawan (second defendant) and his current employer, Intrepid Offshore Construction Pte Ltd (first defendant).
Let’s begin with the background of this case. The plaintiff and the first defendant are Singapore-incorporated companies focusing on hydraulic and electrical installations, such as winch systems in the marine industry, as their core business. The second defendant was a former employee of the plaintiff whose employment agreement included confidentiality and non-competition clauses, both of which were points of contention in this case.
The plaintiff alleged copyright infringement and breach of confidentiality against the defendants over five GA drawings of winches, which had been published in the first defendant’s catalogue and website in October 2010. Additionally, the plaintiff alleged breach of the non-competition clause in the preceding employment agreement against the second defendant, who was now working for the first defendant, a direct competitor of the plaintiff.
During the proceedings, the plaintiff sought to prove copyright infringement by pointing out various distinctive characteristics in the original drawings – such as lines or features that were erroneous and non-functional – that were also in the infringing drawings, alluding to the notion that the drawings were copied. This point was further affirmed as the defendants themselves did not deny that they had copied the drawings.
In terms of the alleged breach of confidence, it was noted that the employment agreement between the plaintiff and second defendant included an obligation of confidence for 2 years after the period of employment. While the use and publication of the GA drawings could be deemed as unauthorised use of confidential information and thus a breach of the obligation of confidence, the fact that the 2 year limit expired on 1 August 2010 meant that the five GA drawings were no longer confidential.
The non-competition clause, which stipulated that the second defendant was not to seek employment with any company in competition with the plaintiff for a period of 2 years, was valid but not breached per se due to perceived acquiescence as the plaintiff had not taken any action when the second defendant joined another competitor, EMS Engineering and Marine Services Pte Ltd, immediately upon leaving his employment with the plaintiff.
Upon considering the evidence adduced and the facts of the case, the Learned Judge held that there was an infringement of copyright and granted an injunction against the continued use of the GA drawings by the defendants. However, an injunction was not granted due to breach of obligation of confidentiality or of the non-competition clause in the employment agreement as the 2 year period in question had expired.
On the issue of damages, as there was no apparent commercial loss by the plaintiff, and similarly no commercial benefit to the defendants, save for the time and effort saved in copying the drawings instead of coming up with them from scratch, the Learned Judge decided that awarding the plaintiff damages of SGD5,000 per drawing was reasonable given the situation, thereby resulting in total damages of SGD25,000.
This case emphasizes the value of copyright and confidential information as IP assets and how they too can be used to protect your business and profits. In a nutshell, it is important when running a business to explicitly state what information is and should be considered confidential and treat it as such. At the same time, it is also important to manage that confidential information so that ex-employees do not misuse them to their benefit and your detriment.