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. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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