Adobe alleges Mac site broke trade secrets

The software maker is suing the publisher of a Macintosh gossip Web site, alleging that its sneak peek of the new version of Photoshop amounted to misappropriation of trade secrets.

3 min read
Adobe Systems is suing the publisher of a Macintosh gossip Web site, alleging that its sneak peek of the new version of Photoshop amounted to misappropriation of trade secrets.

Adobe is seeking millions of dollars in damages and an injunction barring Macintosh News Network, publisher of the AppleInsider site, from soliciting or posting inside information about Adobe. On May 30, AppleInsider posted "An exclusive inside look at Adobe Photoshop 6" as well as a sneak peak at ImageReady 3.0.

Adobe filed suit the next day in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., alleging that both software products are "in a highly proprietary and very early development form." The company maintained that both the existence of the development versions and their features were Adobe trade secrets.

In the court filing, Adobe said the release of such information could hurt sales of current versions and give a heads-up to competitors. It said actual damages "could conservatively amount to tens of millions of dollars."

Macintosh News Network publisher Monish Bhatia said AppleInsider got the information from a publicly accessible Web site, although he said he did not know who posted the information there.

"It was in the public domain," Bhatia said. "I feel like the article was newsworthy."

Adobe executives were not available to comment. An outside lawyer for Adobe declined to comment on the case.

Bhatia said the Photoshop and ImageReady stories were taken down from the site last week as a result of Adobe's legal action. The headline for the story remains up, along with an "Inside-Info" icon, but the story has been deleted with the explanation "Links Removed by the Demand of Adobe Legal" in red lettering.

Ronald Coolley, a lawyer with Jenkens & Gilchrist in Chicago, said much of a publisher's liability depends on whether they know information is confidential and whether they actively solicit the information.

"It's one thing to acquire confidential information because someone just tells you and you don't know its confidential," Coolley said. "You're probably not liable in that situation. The other situation is if you know (someone) is bound by a confidentiality agreement and you try and induce (them) to divulge it. Then you're going to be liable."

In the filing, Adobe said that "Macintosh News Network actively solicits individuals to anonymously submit confidential trade secret information for publication on the World Wide Web."

Bhatia said the site does not encourage people to divulge protected information. But a message on the site asks, "Do you have information?" and encourages people to either contact the site directly or leave an anonymous voice mail message. It provides a specific email address where "confidential information can also be sent."

Coolley said that by accepting the information anonymously, the Web site can argue that it doesn't know whether the information is confidential, but that contention might not pass the test of "reasonableness."

"It appears they are trying to get into the grayest area they can," Coolley said.

The Adobe case follows Microsoft's effort to remove content from the open-source news site Slashdot.org, which it charged was posting Microsoft trade secrets. In that case, the information in question was available free for download to anyone willing to treat the data as confidential.

AppleInsider also has apparently ruffled Microsoft's feathers. Yesterday, it posted an article titled "An Inside Look at Office 2001: Microsoft Word 2001." By today, however, the article had also been removed, with the note "Article Removed 9PM EST By the Demand of Microsoft Corp, Inc."