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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Petition to transfer in trade secrets case pending before the Supreme Court

According to this column by business writer John Ketzenberger in today's Indianapolis Star:

Harmony B. Wigley died Aug. 7, 2001, when her car went out of control on I-69 in Hamilton County. The lawsuit her family filed against tire maker Bridgestone is before the Indiana Supreme Court -- but not for the reason you would think.

The question to be decided by Indiana's top court: whether Bridgestone can protect the formula for a rubber compound as a trade secret.

Amid the lawyers arguing the case are two for the Indiana Legal Foundation, a pro- business group established by Harry Ice nearly 30 years ago. It's typical of the foundation's cases, said Jon Laramore, one of the attorneys in the case. "This is not a glamorous case that would make the front page," Laramore said. "But the issue is of importance to business and the community at large."

Laramore worked closely with Eli Lilly and Co. and Zimmer Holdings, which have many trade secrets they want to shelter.

Indiana law protects trade secrets, but the companies worry the information-gathering process during lawsuits could give away those secrets.

The August 31, 2006 Court of Appeals decision in the case, Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc., et al v. Violet Mayberry, et al, is available here. The ILB summary at the time of the opinion by Judge Najam was:
Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc., Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC, and Bridgestone/Firestone Manufacturing Operations Division (collectively “Bridgestone”) bring this interlocutory appeal to challenge the trial court’s order compelling discovery of Bridgestone’s highly proprietary skim stock formula. [ILB -see order below] Bridgestone presents three issues for our review, which we consolidate and restate as whether the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered Bridgestone to disclose its skim stock formula. We affirm. * * *

To convince us that the trial court abused its discretion, Bridgestone must demonstrate that the trial court’s conclusion is against the logic and natural inferences that can be drawn from the facts and circumstances before the court. See Stuff, 838 N.E.2d at 1099. Bridgestone has not met this burden on appeal. Therefore, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion when it fashioned a narrowly tailored protective order under Rule 26(C)(7) and compelled Bridgestone to disclose its skim stock formula.

The trial court order at issue, as quoted in the CA opinion, p. 3, reads:
[T]he Defendant has argued that the “[skim stock]” information is a confidential or secret formula, which the Defendant protects from its competitors. Plaintiff has argued that such information is necessary in the effective preparation and presentation of its case. The Court finds that after considering all of the evidence and arguments of counsel, that the Defendant has failed to establish why [its skim stock formula] should not be made available as part of the discovery process.

In light of the fact that the Court has denied the request for a sharing protective order and the Court’s intent to severely restrict the present order, said information is not to be shared with any person not directly an employee, litigant or expert employed by the parties. Furthermore, no expert consulted by or employed by Plaintiff shall be permitted to retain, disseminate or otherwise utilize such discovery material on behalf of any other person, entity or group other than Plaintiff. Any violation will be treated as a serious matter subjecting that person to potential severe punishment for contempt of court.

A check of the docket shows that although a transfer petition is pending, the Supreme Court has not yet acted on the petition.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 13, 2007 09:20 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions