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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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