Cases from Tatel

United States Court of Appeals for the district of Columbia Circuit
FCC Can't Require Merger Applicants to Disclose Trade Secrets to Non-Parties

The D.C. Circuit’s decision in CBS indicates that federal courts acknowledge the critical implications of trade secret disclosure and trade secret law’s increasing significance in the protection of business practices. The D.C. Circuit held that it was improper for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require merger applicants to submit proprietary documents for review and make them available for examination by industry participants not a party to the action, on an expedited basis.

Typically when reviewing cable company mergers, the FCC requires disclosure of information including key affiliate contracts and negotiation documents. Within the cable industry, these documents are kept highly confidential. The disclosure of these documents would expose not only the cable company parties involved in the merger, but also the content providers which they do business with. The Plaintiffs in this case, a group of content providers, utilized the Trade Secret Act to resist disclosure of their proprietary information to third party examiners. The Trade Secret Act prohibits disclosing sensitive business information unless “authorized by law.” The Plaintiffs successfully argued that this disclosure of sensitive business information was not authorized by the law because the Commission’s own regulations and internal policies did not authorize the disclosure which the FCC sought. The FCC’s internal policies provide that “a persuasive showing as to the reasons for inspection will be required [for disclosure]” and that the underlying documents must be “necessary” to the review process. The D.C. Circuit held that the affiliate contracts and negotiation documents were merely relevant, but not necessary to the FCC’s merger review. Thus, the required disclosure of proprietary documents involving third party content providers was not authorized by law and prohibited by the Trade Secrets Act.