Polaris Industries Inc. is suing a snow bike designer who joined the firm for a few years after selling his company to it — and is now trying to launch a competing business.
The company learned about the actions of former employee Allen Mangum through statements he made on a YouTube video and podcast.
Polaris filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against Mangum earlier this week, alleging theft of intellectual property and trade secrets used in snow bike conversion kits.
A Polaris spokesperson called the lawsuit a "necessary step to protect Polaris' intellectual property and investment in innovation" and offered no further comment.
Mangum didn't respond to inquiries for comment.
The business represents a tiny portion of the $8.2 billion annual revenue for Medina-based Polaris, principally known for snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles.
Snow bike kits allow people to convert certain dirt bikes to ride in snow by swapping out the tires for skis and tracks.
Mangum in 2002 founded a snow bike conversion company called Timbersled Products Inc. He sold the firm to Polaris in 2015 for an undisclosed amount and joined Polaris as an employee and later a contract employee.
Mangum left Polaris in April 2020, and he was then subject to a non-compete agreement for a year. Polaris said that by virtue of its purchase agreement for Mangum's company, he cannot use confidential information developed by that business.
That agreement, a portion of which was reproduced in the lawsuit, says "Sellers will not at any time use, divulge, furnish or make accessible to anyone any Trade Secrets."
"Confidentiality agreements don't have to have a specific time limit," said Tom Berg, who teaches courses at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on intellectual property and constitutional law. He's not a party in the case.
"Courts are more willing to enforce confidentiality agreements than non-compete agreements," Berg said.
Berg also noted that there is a distinction between general knowledge a person has and confidential information.
After the non-compete agreement expired, Mangum started a new company, Mtn.Top, and re-entered the snow bike conversion kit business.
Polaris learned of the new venture in part because Mangum went on a podcast with SnowBike Nation and did a YouTube interview with SnoWest Magazine. In both, he talked about his new business and a new snow bike conversion kit he was developing.
In the suit, Polaris attached a podcast transcript in which Mangum said of his time at the company: "I wasn't the corporate kind of guy, so I didn't really fit in."
In the podcast, Mangum said he had examined other businesses after leaving Polaris but ultimately decided to go back to snow bikes.
From the podcast, YouTube video and Mangum's corporate website, Polaris said it determined he "made use of Polaris' confidential information, know-how, and/or trade secrets."