Apple goes to court to smoke out product leaker

Mac maker wants enthusiast sites to turn over documents related to leak about unreleased product.

Apple Computer is seeking to force three Mac enthusiast sites to turn over information about who leaked details on a forthcoming music product.

Apple last week was granted the right to subpoena, Apple Insider and Think Secret, forcing the sites to turn over all documents related to an unreleased product code named "Asteroid" and "Q97."

In November, Apple Insider and reported that Apple what's known in the music industry as a breakout box--a device for connecting musical instruments and other analog audio sources to a computer.

This is not the first time Apple has gone to court in an effort to identify a leaker.

Earlier this month, Apple filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against the unnamed persons it says released company trade secrets but added in later court filings that it has been unable to determine who those people are. The subpoenas, Apple said in its filings, are designed to identify the individuals.

"That person (alone or in concert with others) has misappropriated Apple's trade secrets regarding future product information, and those trade secrets have appeared on three Web sites," Apple said in court documents seen by CNET "Apple's internal investigations have, to date, failed to uncover the identity of any defendant."

According to the enthusiast sites, Asteroid would have analog inputs for plugging in instruments or other audio sources, a FireWire connection to the Mac and the jacks needed to output sound to speakers or other media gear.

The sites predicted that it could be unveiled at next month's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Although Apple filed its suit Dec. 13, much of the paperwork for the case has been filed under seal. The order granting the subpoena request was the first publicly available document to identify Asteroid as the product in question.

An Apple representative did not comment on Tuesday beyond a statement issued last week. At the time, Apple said it was suing "unnamed individuals who we believe stole our trade secrets and posted detailed information about an unannounced Apple product on the Internet. Apple's DNA is innovation, and the protection of our trade secrets is crucial to our success."

This is not the first time Apple has gone to court in an effort to identify a leaker. The company sued in August 2000 to identify a tipster who had used the name "worker bee." Through subpoenas, Apple later identified the individual as an ex-contractor, Juan Gutierrez.

In trying to identify the identity of worker bee, Apple basically had to confirm that there was some truth to the rumors that he was posting--namely the details of a revision to the iBook laptop. Apple eventually did release a laptop whose details matched worker bee's description. In 2001, Apple settled with Gutierrez after he promised to turn over any remaining Apple confidential information and not divulge any further details.

In the latest action, Apple is seeking an injunction to prevent further disclosure of future product information as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. News of the subpoena effort was reported earlier by enthusiast site The Mac Observer.

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