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Appellate Judges Question Apple's Trade Secrets Claim

Appellate Judges Question Apple's Trade Secrets Claim

by , 4:35 PM EDT, April 20th, 2006

In the ongoing legal battle between Apple and PowerPage publisher Jason O'Grady, the State of California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District pushed Apple lawyers during a hearing Thursday, going so far as to directly question Apple's claim that product information leaked to PowerPage constituted a trade secret.

ZDNet's Ina Fried reported that the court's presiding judge, Conrad Rushing, asked an Apple attorney, "You don't really claim this is a new technology? This is plugging a guitar into a computer."

The question referred to a never-released product named Asteroid that Apple was developing for the digital music recording market. A FireWire breakout box, Asteroid would have acted as an interface between guitars (and other real instruments) and your Macs.

In response to the question, attorney George Riley called the release of this information to a Web site a "very serious theft," the same argument made by Apple in earlier hearings covered by The Mac Observer.

"(The three Web sites) were merely fencing stolen information," Mr. Riley told Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg in a March 4th, 2005 hearing. "We're vitally concerned about the precedent this would set. We didn't bring this case lightly."

That hearing resulted in Judge Kleinberg granting Apple access to the e-mail records of Jason O'Grady, which is what is being appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Attorneys with the Electronic Freedom Foundation representing Mr. O'Grady have attacked Apple's attempts to gain access to his sources in part because the company did not exhaust other avenues, something required by established precedent in cases where corporations looked to gain access to a journalist's sources. Specifically, Apple didn't question its own employees under oath, something that Apple has said in court it shouldn't have to do.

Though Judge Kleinberg agreed with Apple, issuing the original ruling giving Apple the access it wanted, tough questioning from the appellate court might be an indication that it considers press freedoms to be more important.

That said, however, there are many examples of appellate judge questioning that have appeared to indicate the court's direction, only to have a different ruling. Accordingly, readers should be cautioned from reading too much into today's hearing.

There is more information on the hearing in Ina Fried's coverage at ZDNet.

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