ILNews

Courts must ID trade secrets

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a northern Indiana judge's order to protect certain information and trade secrets, holding the District Court judge didn't adequately distinguish what shouldn't be released in a copyright and trade secrets dispute between two competing modular home builders.

A unanimous three-judge panel ruled today in Patriot Homes, Inc. and Patriot Manufacturing, Inc. v. Forest River Housing, Inc., d/b/a Sterling Homes, No. 06-3012.

The case involved Patriot Homes and Forest River Housing, who'd been competing contentiously for years, and what information each manufacturer could use. After Forest River unsuccessfully tried to acquire Patriot in 2004, it hired four Patriot employees. Those workers copied design materials from computers and took them to the new company, Sterling Homes.

In 2005, Sterling distributed brochures containing exact copies of Patriot's floor plans for homes that it was selling for less. Patriot asked Judge Allen Sharp for a preliminary and permanent stop to circulating those materials and that all confidential information and trade secrets be returned. Judge Sharp granted the preliminary injunction, but both parties disagreed on what information could be protected.

Overturning that injunction, Circuit Judge Terry Evans wrote: "The preliminary injunction entered by the District Court uses a collection of verbs to prohibit Sterling from engaging in certain conduct; but ultimately it fails to detail what the conduct is ... the substance of the 'trade secret' or 'confidential information' to which the verbs refer."

The Circuit Court disagreed with Patriot that no requirement exists for a court to identify each and every element of copyright originality or trade secret. As a result of the injunction, neither Sterling nor the Circuit Court could determine using certain information gathered through the Freedom of Information Act could be used, the court wrote.

"While it is not always easy to ascertain what information is a trade secret or confidential at this stage of the proceedings, the District Court still must make this determination in order to clearly delineate Sterling's responsibilities pursuant to the injunction," Judge Evans wrote, noting that Patriot mentioned during arguments in March that Sterling could only know that by looking at the court's preliminary injunction transcripts.

He added, "This requires a lot of guesswork on Sterling's part in order to determine if it is engaging in activities that violate the injunction, since the order itself is a little more than a recitation of the law."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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