Trade Secret Laws Are Not Intended To Extend Protection After Patents Expire, Says New Jersey Court

On August 27, 2013, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division affirmed the long held notion that the content of an expired patent passes into the public domain and is thus outside the boundary of trade secret law.

In UCB Mfg, Inc. v. Tris Pharma, Inc., plaintiff employer alleged that defendant former employees used plaintiff’s confidential information to create a generic version of plaintiff’s cough medicine, Tussionex®. In addition to finding the noncompetition agreement between the parties unenforceable, the court emphasized that “all the confidential information alleged to have been divulged was in the public domain and not entitled to protection.”

On appeal, UCB dropped its trade secret misappropriation claim and pursued a theory of breach of contract and unfair competition. The court held that UCB’s breach of contract claims could not stand “[w]here trade secrets are not demonstrably involved . . .” The court found that trade secrets did not exist because after UCB’s patent had expired, “the knowledge of the invention inures to the people, who are thus enabled without restriction to practice it and profit by its use.”