Importantly, “Whether information is a trade secret is ordinarily a question of fact.” ( San Jose Const., Inc. v. S.B.C.C., Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1528, 1537 citing: In re Providian Credit Card Cases (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 292, 300; Thompson v. Impaxx, Inc. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1425, 1430; and Morlife, Inc. v. Perry (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 1514, 1521, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 731.) As the San Jose Const. Inc. case held, “Whether that information actually constituted a trade secret is a factual issue for the jury or court to determine at trial, as did the trial court in Morlife.” (San Jose Const., Inc. v. S.B.C.C., Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1528, 1540, citing Morlife v. Perry, supra, 56 Cal.App.4th 1514 at 1521.)
1. Facts as Trade Secrets
Trade secrets can consist of facts. (See Silvaco Data Systems v. Intel Corp., (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 210, 220-221, as modified on denial of reh’g (May 27, 2010) disapproved of on other grounds by Kwikset Corp. v. Superior Court (2011) 51 Cal. 4th 310 (“Indeed a trade secret may consist of something we would not ordinarily consider an idea (a conceptual datum) at all, but more a fact (and empirical datum), such as a customer’s preferences, or the location of a mineral deposit. In either case, the trade secret is not the idea or fact itself, but information tending to communicate (disclose) the idea or fact to another. Trade secret law, in short, protects only the right to control the dissemination of information.”) (original italics) (Bold emphasis added).)
2. Ideas as Trade Secrets
Trade secrets may relate to ideas, even potentially patentable ideas, as well. (Altavion, Inc. v. Konica Minolta Systems Laboratory, Inc. (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 26, 54-55 (“[I]t has been held that a trade secret in the broad sense consists of any unpatented idea which may be used for industrial and commercial purposes . . . . In conclusion, it is clear that if a patentable idea is kept secret, the idea itself can constitute information protectable by trade secret law.”) (italics omitted); Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., 782 F.Supp.2d 911, 961-962 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2011.) Here, for example, if the ideas were kept secret, then, in short, the Plaintiff had all the pieces of the puzzle to the exclusion of all other competitors.
3. Negative Information as Trade Secrets
Trade secrets can consist of “negative information,” or information that results from failed efforts or experiments, because such “dead ends” in research or marketing may have value. (See, e.g., Cal. Civ. Code § 3426.1 comment (“The definition of trade secret . . . includes information that has commercial value from a negative viewpoint, for example the results of lengthy and expensive research which proves that a certain process will not work could be of great value to a competitor.”) (original italics); Courtesy Temporary Service, Inc. v. Camacho (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 1278, 1287 (“The broader definition in the proposed Act . . . includes information that has commercial value from a negative viewpoint, for example the results of lengthy and expensive research which proves that a certain process will not work could be of great value to a competitor.”) (original italics) citing legis. committee com., Cal. Civ. Code § 3426.1, p. 108.) Here, for example, this is an important observation. Imagine a trade secret defendant who would declines to bid any job they know the Plaintiff is already supplying or that the Plaintiff can supply cheaper.”
This is exactly the type of secret, competitive information that anyone would like to have. Information that allows you to not waste your time, money and energy bidding and quoting and competing with an entity you know you cannot beat on certain jobs or, obversely, know you can beat on others. Oftentimes, the only way to know these competitive outcomes for certain, would be be to use the Plaintiff’s trade secret information, that is, to have all the pieces to the puzzle that the Defendant could use to bid jobs in order to beat the Plaintiff or to avoid other jobs altogether.
The next post will cover “Public” information as trade secrets.
Eric Papp, Esq.