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Apple gets tech support in court

Intel, Genentech and BSA file briefs backing Apple's subpoena of records from a Web site that published confidential product info.

The potential conflict between trade secrets and First Amendment rights intensified earlier this week as Intel, Genentech and the Business Software Alliance filed court briefs in support of Apple Computer.

Apple wants to subpoena e-mail records from a Web site that leaked confidential product information.

The briefs, filed this week in a California appeals court, support a tentative ruling by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg. Kleinberg ruled that Apple could subpoena e-mail records of Macintosh enthusiast site PowerPage, which leaked confidential information about a music hardware device code named Asteroid, one of Apple's upcoming products.

Following the judge's decision, however, the digital-rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation asked the appeals court to overturn Kleinberg's ruling, saying it would infringe on PowerPage's First Amendment rights. EFF represents three online journalists whose records are being sought by Apple in the case.

Intel, Genentech and the software alliance contend that innovation would be hampered if it were legal to obtain trade secrets and post them on a Web site.

"Strong trade secret laws are vital to the health of California's high-technology business and to the economy of the nation as a whole," Intel and BSA stated in their joint brief. "There is no public interest in having such trade secrets stolen and plastered on the Internet for competitors and others to see."

The chip giant and BSA asked the appeals court to differentiate between First Amendment protections and cases where reporters "have been conduits of stolen information and their files contain direct evidence of that illegal conduct."

Genentech, a biotech giant, asked the court to consider the effect of allowing a company's intellectual property to be published without its permission.

"In this day and age, when a trade secret--indeed, any kind of secret--is never more than a few keystrokes away from global publication, companies that prosper on the strength of their intellectual property must have the ability to take reasonable steps to learn the identities of those who steal that property," Genentech stated in court documents.

In the last five months, Apple has subpoenaed the records of PowerPage and AppleInsider to uncover the identities of three "John Does" who it says leaked the confidential information to the sites. While Apple is not directly suing the two sites, it is focusing its suit against the individuals who leaked the information. In a separate case, Apple is suing the publisher of Web site ThinkSecret for its role in disclosing Apple's trade secrets.

Apple declined to comment on the Intel, Genentech and BSA briefs, and instead referred to its original statement when it filed its John Doe case with the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

"Apple has filed a civil complaint against 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," the company said.

Meanwhile, in a third, unrelated case, Apple sued three men who leaked developer copies of its new Tiger operating system onto file-sharing sites. Apple has settled with two of the three men.