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Federal judge orders unsealing of documents in ongoing Apple-Samsung patent litigation

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A California federal court has ordered documents in a legal battle over smart phones and tablets unsealed -- a departure…

A California federal court has ordered documents in a legal battle over smart phones and tablets unsealed — a departure from the marked increase in the number of civil cases completely or partially sealed in courts nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh of San Jose, Calif., ruled that Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. have both inappropriately attempted to seal court documents as their ongoing patent lawsuit approaches trial on July 30. Although many documents were under seal at the pre-trial stage of the case, Judge Koh has said they cannot remained sealed, saying "the whole trial is going to be open."

The practice of oversealing documents has become a trend in civil cases, particularly those involving intellectual property disputes, said some media attorneys.

"What you see in these cases is both sides designate practically everything as confidential," lawyer Karl Olson said in an interview. Olson represented media company Reuters America LLC, which intervened in the case for access to the documents, arguing that the First Amendment protects the right of public access to court documents, especially when the presiding judge relies on the documents in reaching a decision.

Olson noted that the recent Oracle America v. Google patent litigation case, in which a judge refused to redact documents, and the Apple v. Samsung ruling, have rejected this practice of oversealing documents in intellectual property cases. In both cases, the judges said they would only seal documents if they contained "exceptionally sensitive information," Olson said.

Before the documents are made public, Apple and Samsung will have an opportunity to argue that some of them should remain sealed, but the court indicated it will not make a decision to keep any of the documents under seal lightly.

"[P]arties are ordered to carefully scrutinize the documents it seeks to seal. At this stage of the proceedings, the presumption of openness will apply to all documents and only documents of exceptionally sensitive information that truly deserve protection will be allowed to be redacted or kept from the public," the court held.

Apple sued Samsung to stop it from selling Galaxy phones and tablets in the United States, Reuters reported. The numerous sealed documents in the case include testimony, trial exhibits and written motions. Both companies argue the documents should be sealed to protect, among other reasons, trade secrets, litigation strategy and product launch and marketing strategies.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.), the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over federal trial courts in California, requires stronger justification in requests to seal documents involved in dispositive motions — or, those to decide a legal claim — than for sealing documents involved in other kinds of motions.

In their request to seal documents involved in motions for summary judgment, which, if granted, would dispose of the claim or claims at issue, Apple and Samsung must show that "compelling reasons [to] support secrecy" exist, compared to the lower standard of "good cause" that would be required were the companies requesting to seal documents in non-dispositive motions.

Koh indicated that "nearly all of the documents" that had previously been sealed could not meet the standard for remaining sealed at trial. For example, trial exhibits cannot appropriately remain sealed as they will 'presumably be used in open court.'"

Calls seeking comment from the attorneys for Apple and Samsung in this case were not returned.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· NM&L: Under seal: Secrets at the Supreme Court

· Dig.J.Leg.Gd.: Cameras in courtrooms

· Brief: Letter to U.S. Supreme Court on access to arguments in health care reform law cases