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HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES, September 11, 2021 — Claims of trade secret theft made by a Houston-based fuel delivery startup against a Total SA subsidiary were referred to arbitration on Wednesday. Senior U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller issued an order compelling arbitration in Fuel Husky, LLC D/B/A Instafuel’s (“Instafuel”) case against Total Energy Ventures International, S.A.S., N/K/A Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures (“TEVI”).
Started by two young entrepreneurs in Houston, Texas, Instafuel is a mobile-fueling startup that delivers gas directly to customer vehicles, thereby eliminating the need for customers to spend time at gas stations. Instafuel was recently ranked the fastest growing company in Houston by Inc. 5000 thanks to its unique approach of targeting commercial fleets as its customer base, innovative business model, and highly researched pricing strategy, client lists, and fueling
Instafuel’s rapid growth unsurprisingly caught the attention of competitors and investors, as Total S.A. (“Total”), the French multinational oil and gas conglomerate, repeatedly expressed interest in becoming an investor in Instafuel. During these discussions, mutual non-disclosure agreements were signed by Instafuel and Total, but after receiving Instafuel’s trade secrets under these agreements, Total turned around and invested in Instafuel’s direct competitor, Booster Fuels, Inc. (“Booster Fuels”).
In 2019 Instafuel discovered that TEVI, a subsidiary of Total, misappropriated Instafuel’s trade secrets and shared them with Booster Fuels. Shortly after this blatant breach of the mutual non disclosure agreements and wrongful divulging of Instafuel’s proprietary information to their direct competitor, Booster Fuels changed significant aspects of their business model to copy the successful strategies found in Instafuel’s stolen trade secrets, down to copying Instafuel’s truck design and addressable market.
After discovering this unlawful conduct, Instafuel promptly retained thelaw firm and filed lawsuits against Total and Booster Fuels for misappropriation of trade secrets. In their case against Total, Instafuel has awaited the court’s ruling on arbitration since 2019 after Lema Barazi, the lead attorney representing Instafuel in these matters, argued that Total’s unlawful acts should not be subject to arbitration, especially considering the fraud involved.
“While we disagree that Total’s unlawful acts should be subject to arbitration, considering the fraud involved, we respect the court’s ruling and intend to aggressively prosecute Instafuel’s claims,” Barazi said.
Total is represented by William R. Taylor, Joseph M. Beauchamp and Alexander G. Hughes of Jones Day.
The case is Fuel Husky LLC v. Total Energy Ventures International SAS, case number 4:19-cv04277, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
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