Orbitz contracts with hotels are ‘trade secrets,’ Tax Court rules

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The Indiana Tax Court Wednesday granted online travel company Orbitz LLC’s request to place certain documents under seal – including contracts the company has with three Indiana hotels. Judge Martha Wentworth determined that the contracts are trade secrets, so they are not subject to public disclosure.

The ruling came in Orbitz, LLC v. Indiana Department of State Revenue, 49T10-0903-TA-10, in which Orbitz challenged the results of an audit the Department of State Revenue completed in 2007. The revenue department determined Orbitz was deficient in remitting Indiana’s gross retail (sales) and county innkeeper taxes on bookings that occurred between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2006, through its website.

Orbitz protested the proposed assessments issued by the department and initiated this tax appeal in 2009. In August 2013, the company sought to prohibit public access to copies of contracts with the hotels. The contracts specifically detail what Orbitz has negotiated with the hotels regarding room rates.

Wentworth determined the contracts have the four characteristics of trade secrets: they are information; that derive independent economic value; that are not generally known, or readily ascertainable by proper means by others who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and that are the subject of efforts, reasonable
under the circumstances, to maintain their secrecy.

“Competition is the bedrock of our country’s economic system,” she wrote. “The protection afforded to trade secrets under Access to Public Records Act and Administrative Rule 9 helps to foster a healthy, competitive marketplace.”



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