Confidential financial records involved in what has been dubbed “The Patent Trial of the Century” between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. will remain sealed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled today.
“We recognize the importance of protecting the public’s interest in judicial proceedings and of facilitating its understanding of those proceedings,” wrote Circuit Judge Sharon Prost for the three-judge panel. “That interest, however, does not extend to mere curiosity about the parties’ confidential information where that information is not central to a decision on the merits. While protecting the public’s interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties’ right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest.”
According to the 24-page opinion, the district court abused its discretion last year when it ordered Apple and Samsung to disclose portions of documents that included profit information for both companies, following an request by Reuters.
In its ruling, the court concluded that Apple and Samsung would suffer "competitive harm" if the documents were made public and that the two companies did have a "significant interest" in preventing the documents' release.
"We do not read Ninth Circuit precedent as creating a blanket rule that the 'compelling reasons' standard is necessarily met whenever a document contains a trade secret," according to the opinion. "Rather, the court still must weigh the interests of the party who wishes to seal the trade secret against the interests of the public."
The two technology giants joined forces last year to fight the unsealing order issued by U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh. Reuters declined to file a brief in the appeal to keep the documents public. At that point, the First Amendment Coalition sought to intervene in the appeal, but was denied.
Last October, the Coalition and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by seven media organizations, both then filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the records in the smartphone patent lawsuit be made public.
The appeal was significant because the Federal Circuit, where much important patent law is made, has never had a seminal access case.