A federal jury in Little Rock ruled that Walmart stole trade secrets from Agtech company Zest Labs, a breach that came with a $115 million judgement.
The ruling against Walmart came after a two-week trial in U.S. District Judge James Moody’s court in Little Rock. This is believed to be the largest jury verdict ever in Arkansas.
San Jose, California-based Zest Labs specializes in technology to reduce food waste and move food as quickly as possible from farm to table. In their suit, Zest contended that while they were doing business with the Bentonville-based retail giant, Walmart learned about Zest’s proprietary technology and stole it for themselves.
Little Rock attorney Scott Richardson teamed up with the Texas-based firm Williams, Simons & Landis to represent Zest in the lawsuit. Zest Labs, Inc. et. al. v Walmart, Inc., was filed in August 2018, and the trial began March 29, 2021.
Ecoark Holdings (parent company of Zest) released a statement explaining their decision to sue in August 2018:
In March 2018, Walmart publicly announced that, after six months, it had developed Eden to “keep track of food freshness all the way from the farms to our stores” and to, “eliminate $2 billion in waste over the next five years.”
“We were surprised and concerned by how similar Walmart’s Eden description was to Zest Fresh,” said Peter Mehring, CEO of Zest Labs. “Like most innovative companies, we believe strongly in the need to protect our intellectual property, recognizing the importance of preserving the value for our shareholders and customers. Zest Labs challenged long held beliefs at most retailers by properly identifying the primary contributing factor to pre-consumer waste. We then defined and implemented a breakthrough, proactive approach to managing fresh food from the farm to the shelf, significantly reducing that waste.”
Court documents show that on Friday, April 9, the jury awarded $60 million to Zest for the charge that “Walmart misappropriated Zest Labs’ trade secret.” The jury awarded Zest another $50 million for exemplary (punitive) damages. For breaching the nondisclosure agreement, the jury awarded Zest another $5 million.
After Friday’s verdict, Randy May, CEO of Ecoark Holdings, Inc., had this to say:
“We are happy that we had our day in court and that the jury found that Walmart misappropriated our trade secrets and breached the agreement between the parties. The damages awarded were strongly supported by the evidence. The jury verdict also allows us to file motions seeking attorneys’ fees and costs. We do not believe Walmart has any basis to appeal the verdict and doing so will only confirm that the judgment was proper. Intellectual property is key to America’s modern economy. The jury understood that protecting trade secrets is the right thing to do and critical to future business operations in Arkansas. We plan to file an appeal of some of the Judge’s pre-trial rulings to make sure that Walmart is held fully accountable for its actions. The appeal will allow Ecoark and Zest to seek additional liability and damages findings against Walmart to ensure that innovative businesses are protected from misappropriation of their technologies.”
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove sent this statement on the verdict, which he says Walmart plans to appeal:
“Walmart values its business relationships and respects the intellectual property rights of others. We have policies in place to prevent the inappropriate use of third-party assets. We believe the jury’s verdict is excessive, not supported by the facts and should be set aside. We plan to file post-trial motions and are considering our next steps.”