Apple Sues Two People For Posting Trade Secrets: A Closer Look At The Issues

by , 8:00 AM EST, December 12th, 2002

What if you worked at Apple and came into possession of some juicy information about upcoming Mac models: Would you leak the info? How about if you understood that Apple has likely sunk millions into creating those new models, and millions more in marketing, and that if you divulged the secrets Apple could lose vital timing that often is part of product announcements: Would you still spill the beans?

According to C|Net, two former Apple contract employees, one Jose Lopez and an unidentified woman presently known as Doe 1, were faced with those very questions and decided to blab. The pair now face the consequences as Apple's famed legal eagles level lawsuits against them. The C|Net article, titled Apple sues former contractor, has the details:

On Wednesday, the company filed a civil lawsuit against Jose Lopez, a former Apple contractor accused of leaking information about redesigned Power Mac computers released in August.

The lawsuit comes less than a month before the San Francisco Macworld Expo, where Apple is expected to unveil updated versions of many of its "i" applications. Rumors about upcoming products tend to increase as one of the two major Macworld trade shows approaches. The timing of the lawsuit may not be accidental, analysts say.

"They are clearly timing this to warn other potential leakers," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "You make the object lesson at the right moment."

"Apple has filed a civil complaint against Jose Lopez, previously employed by Apple as a contractor, who we believe stole Apple's trade secrets by posting schematic drawings, images and engineering details of an unannounced Apple product on the Internet," the company said in a statement.

Check out the full article at C|Net News.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The first reaction from many will be to wonder why anyone would want to knowingly put Apple in a bad way, besides Bill Gates, of course. After all, Apple only owns a small, insignificant piece of the computing pie so why would anyone hurt them? A step outside the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field may reveal a world where folks don't think of Apple as a key player on the computing landscape, but rather a means to earn a quick buck or a modicum of fame.

For those keeping score at home, this sort of thing happens in the broader world far more often than you might think. For all the flak that the Mac community takes for following the goings-on of Apple, there are other industries where people are also hungry for advanced information. The car, movie, and electronics industries, for instance, have their own rumor mongering populations, and there too, former employees are often the source of leaked information.

When this stuff gets published, it often blurs the line between "news" and "leaked trade secrets," and there are often suits of the sort that Apple is laying on. In other words, this is not isolated to Apple or the Mac community, despite what some Chicken Littles might have you believe.

It's a tough line to follow, too. If a responsible publication has something double-sourced, it is, generally speaking, going to be considered news. The lack of that second source, or, as is far more often the case, the lack of deep pockets to fight a lawsuit from a company with more than US$4 billion in the bank, can easily turn that news into something else altogether.

You'll notice, for instance, that Apple hasn't sued ZDNet or C|Net, despite the fact that both publications have ventured into "rumor land" on more than one occasion. That's no accident: when it's Deep Pocket vs. Deep Pockets, and one of those deep pockets is the press, the press is going to win every time. Deep Pockets vs. The Small Frye, on the other hand, and we have what Roger Kay rightly calls a warning shot across the bow of anyone planning on talking in the future. Hey, he's allowed to get something right about Apple every once in a while.

All that said, we at TMO believe that speculation on what Apple is going to do helps the company. There is huge bit of difference between speculating and trafficking in Apple's trade secrets. For instance, it doesn't take an advanced degree in mathematics to realize that Apple isn't going to update the portable line at Macworld, as the company just updated it in the last couple of months.

On the other hand, it's been about 9 months since Apple updated the iMac line. Apple tends to update its product lines every 6-9 months, barring unusual circumstances, so, again, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that Apple may have an update for the iMac at Macworld. That's speculation, and it's fun, keeps people interested in Apple, and is healthy, as is discussing what features we would like to see in such a new iMac.

By the same token, poring over a stolen PDF of the next PowerMac line, and publishing the specs of that unit on the Web, doesn't really help out anyone save the person who wants his 15 minutes of fame. It would seem that Apple is hoping that even that call will be mitigated by the threat of a lawsuit.

There's one more thing that this lawsuit tells us: Apple is working on something good for this Macworld, and doesn't want word leaking out. For our money, speculate on what that might be, but don't give us a bunch of leaked information.