Apple settles with 'worker bee'

The Mac maker quietly settles a lawsuit against a former worker who allegedly posted company secrets on the Internet under the pseudonym "worker bee."

3 min read
Apple Computer has quietly settled a lawsuit against a former worker who allegedly posted company secrets on the Internet under the pseudonym "worker bee."

According to documents filed at California's Santa Clara County Superior Court, Apple reached a deal in April with Juan Gutierrez, a former temporary worker whom Apple alleged was responsible for the "worker bee" postings.

As part of the settlement, Apple and Gutierrez jointly agreed that he would turn over any confidential information he still had in his possession and refrain from sharing any more information he may have learned during his time at the Mac maker. Gutierrez had originally signed a nondisclosure agreement with Apple in October 1999, according to court documents.

Edward Davila, an attorney for Gutierrez, told CNET News.com on Tuesday that his client is grateful that Apple decided to settle the case. He described Gutierrez as a smart, young Mac fan who got caught up in the excitement of knowing what Apple was developing.

"He exercised some non-maliced, bad judgment," Davila said of Gutierrez, who is in his 20s. "I think it was kind of youthful enthusiasm and exuberance."

Davila said the stipulations that were part of the court record represent what Gutierrez agreed to as part of the settlement.

"There were no side deals or anything like that," said Davila, adding that Gutierrez is still working in the technology industry.

Representatives at Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The low-profile settlement came in sharp contrast to the intense interest generated last August when Apple sued "worker bee" as an unnamed individual for allegedly misappropriating Apple's trade secrets. Apple then obtained a court order forcing Yahoo to turn over records in an effort to identify "worker bee."

The postings of "worker bee" to various Mac sites and to a Yahoo GeoCities Web site started in February 2000. The postings offered details on several upcoming Apple products, including iBooks, the Power Mac G4 and the Pro Mouse.

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When the lawsuit was first filed, legal experts speculated that Apple's main purpose was probably to find out who was leaking the secrets rather than to collect damages. In late August, the company amended its suit to name Gutierrez as the one allegedly leaking its confidential information.

"It sounds like from Apple's perspective they achieved what they set out to, which was to stop the flow of information," said Daniel Harris, a partner in the intellectual property group at the San Francisco-based law firm of Brobeck Phleger & Harrison.

Harris said that finding out who is leaking trade secrets is particularly important for companies because information is generally no longer considered a trade secret once it is made public, even if the disclosure was not authorized.

However, Harris noted that the courts are beginning to take a dimmer view of "John Doe" lawsuits aimed at identifying anonymous individuals, particularly people who post unflattering information on Internet message boards. Harris cited a recent ruling in a New Jersey case that could narrow the scope in that state for when a suit can be filed against an unknown party.

"Courts in general don't want to be viewed or used as tools to uncover a piece of information," Harris said. In Apple's case, though, there was a genuine dispute, he said.

"Clearly...they had trade secrets that were being released," Harris said.