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Apple v. Samsung: Tech firms want trade secrets protected

Reuters wants public access to all trial information, but tech firms, including Qualcomm, say disclosure of such things as licensing terms would hurt innocent bystanders.

Some of the largest tech firms want the country's court system to hush up when it comes to their trade secrets.


Apple, Samsung, Intel, and Qualcomm are fighting to keep their trade secrets from spilling out into public view as part of the Apple v. Samsung patent trial.

The most recent example came this afternoon when Qualcomm filed papers opposing attempts by Reuters news service to unseal documents in the case, including details about licensing agreements Qualcomm entered with at least one of the litigants. Earlier, Samsung lawyers tried to get an Apple executive to open up about the unreleased iPhone 5. Last night, Apple objected to Samsung's plans to show some of Apple's internal market research.

This is only a side show for the main event. Apple last year accused Samsung of ripping off its intellectual property involving the iPhone and iPad to build a series of Samsung products. Samsung later counter-sued claiming that Apple violated some of its patents. The trial began this week.

In its filing, Reuters said that the public interest is served if information is released that provides a understanding of how the patent system works and disclosure "would increase everyone's access to information." Reuters said a licensing agreement isn't important enough to keep confidential and "is not a compelling reason to seal."

Companies have long hated to see practically any information about their business revealed to the public. In recent years, however, judges have been much more obliging, though the court system is supposed to be a public forum. There are plenty of instances of companies trying to keep even the most insignificant detail about their operations under wrap.

Sometimes, they've tried protecting secrets that aren't secret at all.

Qualcomm acknowledged in its filing that the licensing terms that it wants to be kept under wraps were already disclosed in previously released documents by accident. Not only that, but Qualcomm conceded that Reuters wrote a brief story about the licenses.

Reuters noted that Qualcomm's arguments are moot because the horse has already galloped out of the barn.

In its reply, Qualcomm said there are different levels of confidentiality. Qualcomm said the documents erroneously entered into the record were removed and though Reuters wrote a report, that licensing agreements can last for years. Qualcomm suggested that the Reuters report in question was much more perishable.

"Five years from now," Qualcomm's lawyers wrote, "a competitor or licensee seeking to gain an advantage by obtaining otherwise confidential information about Qualcomm's license terms with Samsung may or may not stumble across that transient and by then ancient history Reuters wire report; they are almost certain to look to and find the docket of this extremely high profile litigation. In other words, despite the inadvertent disclosure, sealing Qualcomm's confidential information in this court's record still matters in the real world."