Cases from James L. Robart

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
Court Decides Several Motions to Seal Trade Secret Information in Microsoft Suit Against Motorola

On November 12, 2012, the Court decided a number of motions filed by both parties, as well as some non-parties, seeking to seal over 200 trial exhibits in relation to Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc. et al., in which Microsoft alleges that Defendants (collectively “Motorola”) breached its commitment to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (“IEEE-SA”) and International Telecommunications Union (“ITU”), as well as those organizations’ members and affiliates. Specifically, Microsoft alleges that Motorola broke its promises to offer licenses to its “essential” patents in the areas of wireless and video-coding technologies, as required by Motorola’s participation in the two organizations, respectively.

In deciding the motions, the court noted a strong presumption against sealing trial exhibits, recognizing the public interest in understanding the bases for adjudicatory decision-making. This presumption is rebuttable when the information at issue is either a trade secret, or where disclosure of the information might “harm a litigant’s competitive standing.” In addressing the different types of information included in the motions, the court drew a distinction between exhibits having little relevance to the underlying issue of the case, and those exhibits more directly related to the ultimate issue. For the former, the Court granted the motions to seal entirely. For the latter, the Court provisionally sealed the exhibits, meaning that such exhibits would not become public unless their contents were discussed by a testifying witness, or used as a basis for the Court’s ruling. The Court could not address all exhibits included in the motion, and agreed to hold daily conferences to determine requests to seal exhibits on a rolling basis throughout the trial.

The decision is important because it shows that companies can go to court to enforce their rights without necessarily losing trade secret protection. The court was generally receptive to the motions to seal, considering that some of the information did not rise to the level of trade secrets. That said, this decision also shows the uncertainty over trade secret protection that can accompany litigation, as the court's provisional seal leaves open the possibility for disclosure through testimony.