Friday, October 19, 2007, 10/19/2007 07:41:00 AM

Trade Secrets and Christmas Shopping at Wal-Mart

I know, I know. It seems every year that the Christmas hype just gets earlier and earlier. Not to be outdone in 2007, we have a little early Christmas cheer involving threats over trade secrets.

From CNNMoney.com, a story about Wal-Mart's threats to various websites that have, in the past, leaked details of the retailer's post-Thanksgiving (so-called "Black Friday" special deals. Apparently, the sites obtain advance copies of Wal-Mart advertising circulars and publish the information weeks in advance of the sale.

According to the story, Brad Olson, the founder of Gottadeal.com, a Web site that markets itself as one of many 'official Black Friday deals sites,' told CNNMoney.com that he received an e-mail Wednesday from lawyers representing Wal-Mart warning him against 'improper release' of the No. 1 retailer's Black Friday sales circular. Other websites are reporting receiving the same threats.

"It has recently come to our attention that you and/or your company may potentially obtain possession of and untimely release Wal-Mart's sales circulars, advertisements or other information prior to their authorized release dates," the law firm Baker Hostetler, which represents Wal-Mart, wrote in a legal notice e-mailed to Brad Olson and obtained by CNNMoney.com.

One lawyer quoted in the story averred that any Wal-Mart employee, design firm or distribution firm that is associated with its Black Friday ads is probably under contract with Wal-Mart not to leak the information. Therefore, "as a general proposition, someone can be liable for misuse of trade secrets if they know that the information they received was obtained in violation of a confidentiality agreement," according to the lawyer.

Bah humbug!

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