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E.I. DuPont deNemours & Co. v. Christopher

    Brief Fact Summary.

    E.I. duPont deNemours & Co. (duPont) (Plaintiff) alleged that the Christophers (Defendant) had wrongfully obtained photos revealing trade secrets belonging to Plaintiff.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    To become knowledgeable of a process without spending the time and money to discover it independently is improper unless the holder voluntarily reveals it or does not take reasonable precautions to keep it secret.

    Facts.

    E.I. duPont deNemours & Co. (Plaintiff) had developed a highly secret but unpatented process for producing methanol, which gave Plaintiff a competitive advantage over other producers.  Plaintiff claimed that this process was a trade secret developed after much expensive and time-consuming research, one that Plaintiff had taken special precautions to safeguard.  When the Christophers (Defendant) intentionally flew over duPont (Plaintiff), they took aerial pictures of new construction at one of Plaintiff’s plants, and they then sold them to undisclosed third parties.  Plaintiff sued for damages and injunction and succeeded.  Defendant appealed arguing that without a trespass or other illegal conduct, or breach of a confidential relationship, appropriation of a trade secret is not wrongful.

    Issue.

    Is it improper to become knowledgeable of a process without spending the time and money to discover it independently unless the holder voluntarily reveals it or does not take reasonable precautions to keep it secret?

    Held.

    (Goldber, J.)  Yes.  To become knowledgeable of a process without spending the time and money to discover it independently is improper unless the holder voluntarily reveals it or does not take reasonable precautions to keep it secret.  The rule found in the Restatement of Torts that has been specifically adopted by the Texas Supreme Court recognizes a cause of action for the discovery of a trade secret by any “improper†means.  Aerial photography of plant construction is an improper means of purposely obtaining the trade secret of another.  Commercial privacy must be protected from espionage that could not have been reasonably anticipated or prevented.  Affirmed. 

    Discussion.

    This court also noted that the ruling in this case is in perfect agreement with the Comments to the Restatement of Torts.  The Comments state that the discovery of the trade secret of another by improper means subjects the actor to liability independently of the harm to the interest in the secret.  Fraudulent misinterpretation, wiretapping, and eavesdropping are other common practices of commercial espionage that fall below the generally accepted standards of commercial morality and reasonable conduct. &nbsp.


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