| WASHINGTON, March 26
WASHINGTON, March 26 A federal appeals court
aggressively questioned the scope of the public interest and
trade secrets at a hearing on Tuesday over document secrecy in
Apple Inc's patent litigation against Samsung
Electronics Co Ltd.
A coalition of media advocacy groups and news organizations
is asking the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a
lower court ruling that ordered the companies to unseal many
financial documents filed in the high-stakes patent case.
Such a decision from the Washington-based appeals court
would set an important precedent for high-level intellectual
property cases, in which filing documents under seal has become
almost standard procedure as companies try to keep their trade
secrets and other sensitive business information from becoming
public in court.
The coalition of media and free speech advocates, including
the New York Times and Bloomberg, argued that access to the
sealed information is important for the public to understand the
judicial process and why one tech giant may ultimately prevail.
But the three-judge Federal Circuit panel, which specializes
in patent cases, expressed concerns about whether their
definition of trade secrets is too narrow and public interest,
"You really seem to be saying that a trade secret is the
formula for Coke and not much else," said Judge William Bryson.
"If there are investors out there who are very interested in
the (sealed financial data), are they part of the public
interest?," he said, adding that such knowledge "wouldn't affect
one's perception of the fairness of the proceeding."
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California had
allowed Apple and Samsung to keep source code and details of
patent licensing deals secret, but ordered them to reveal
financial data and other information.
Apple and Samsung, who are accusing each other of patent
violations as they vie for supremacy in a fast-growing market
for mobile devices, argue that an unsealing order would spur a
chilling effect on involving courts in future intellectual
Reuters had intervened in the trial court to oppose many of
the requests to seal. Koh's orders to reveal some sealed data
are on hold pending the appeals court's decision.
"Most of the world would be shocked to find out that your
financial data ... for products on the market today is not a
trade secret," Federal Circuit Judge Sharon Prost said at the
hearing on Tuesday.
The media companies have argued that the companies have not
shown that unsealing documents would harm their business. Bryson
on Tuesday also appeared to attempt to detach Samsung from Apple
in the secrecy dispute, questioning Samsung's lack of its own
proof of damages that unsealed documents would cause.
The Federal Circuit, when deciding issues not directly
related to patents, uses legal precedents from regional federal
appeals courts. Because the Apple/Samsung case was litigated in
California, 9th Circuit case law will likely apply to the
The case in the Federal Circuit is Apple Inc vs. Samsung
Electronics Co Ltd., 12-1600.