Thursday, December 20, 2007, 12/20/2007 01:50:00 PM

Think Secret Blog Settles Apple Trade Secrets Case By Shutting Down

By Todd
InformationWeek is reporting a confidential settlement has been reached between Apple Computers and the Mac-blog Think Secret that was reportedly a "positive solution for both sides." No sources of the information that sparked the lawsuit were revealed, the release said.

Apple sued Nicholas Ciarelli, who was 19 years old at the time and a Harvard undergraduate, after he revealed details about the Mac Mini computer and other Apple products before they were announced at MacWorld in January 2005. The suit, which also named Ciarelli's company dePlume Organization, was filed in Santa Clara County, Calif., Superior Court shortly after Apple unveiled the products at the conference.

On Thursday, Ciarelli said in a statement that he was glad to have the legal wrangling behind him. "I'm pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits."

Apple accused Ciarelli, who was also an editor at the Harvard Crimson, of "inducing" company employees to break their confidentiality agreements with the company by disclosing trade secrets. The complaint argued that Ciarelli obtained the information illegally by posting a request for people with inside information to contact the site.

Ciarelli, who launched Think Secret when he was 13 years old as an avid fan of Apple products, claimed to have used the same newsgathering practices of other journalists, and therefore was entitled to the same protections. "I talk to sources of information, investigate tips, follow up on leads, and corroborate details. I believe these practices are reflected in Think Secret's track record," he told the Crimson in January 2005.

We here at Womble Trade Secrets are bloggers but do not necessarily share Ciarelli's views that blogger/journalists have a First Amendment right to publish the trade secrets of private entities having implied liability immunity. As we've established on this blog in the past, trade secrets are frequently information sets that, in the right circumstances, establish proprietary rights in their owners. We understand Ciarelli's position that he has the right to publish and print what he wishes - and we don't disagree. We just don't agree blanket liability immunity applies to any such publishing effort if a private party's intellectual property is what is published and the publisher knows, or should have known, that the trade secrets were shared in circumstances where they should not have been - such as in the instances of disloyal employees of a company sharing information about a pending product release.

For an interesting take on this First Amendment/Trade Secret conflict, see: http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~pam/papers/TS%201st%20A%203d%20dr.pdf

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