Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 3/31/2010 12:14:00 PM

Federal Judge: "A Certain Absurdity Exists in Requiring . . . Trade Secrets to Be Unsealed . . . in a Theft of Trade Secrets Trial"

By Todd

Another first here at the Womble Trade Secrets blog - we're linking you to a story from Tire Review, an industry source for news and analysis about, well, tires.

They're reporting that a federal judge in Knoxville, Tennessee has ruled that pictures at the center of industrial espionage case linking Wyko and Goodyear must be viewed “in camera” to protect the interests of those involved. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has approved federal prosecutors' request to keep the seven mobile phone pictures allegedly taken at Goodyear’s Topeka, Kan., OTR plant in May 2007 by Wyko Tire Technology employees Clark Alan Roberts and Sean Edward Howley secret.

Roberts and Howley are accused of visiting the Goodyear plant under false pretenses, covertly using their mobile phones to take photographs of proprietary equipment and sending these to Wyko’s Dudley, U.K., offices. These photos were then allegedly used to complete a “similar piece of machinery” for China’s Haohau South China Guilin Rubber Co. The photos reportedly depict Goodyear’s proprietary “swab down system” used in the production of giant earthmover tires to wrap rubber around a cable.

Roberts was the director of engineering at Wyko Tire Technology’s U.S. site and supervised engineer Howley at the time the duo visited the Goodyear plant. Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Weddle alleges the pair got into the plant by claiming to service some Wyko-manufactured equipment. Howley reportedly confessed when the FBI later raided Wyko, although he now maintains his innocence.The defense said sealing the photos could lead jurors to conclude the photos show trade secrets. Their argument centers on the notion that they do not, Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

However, Judge Shirley ruled in favor of the prosecution’s motion to keep the details secret. "A certain absurdity exists in requiring Goodyear to publicly disclose the trade secrets at issue in a prosecution of the alleged theft and disclosure of those same trade secrets," he wrote.

Wyko is not itself accused in the rare case of alleged industrial espionage. Neither Roberts nor Howley are still employed there. According to the original indictment, the charges include one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, seven counts of theft of trade secrets, three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted of all charges, the defendants each face a maximum of 150 years in prison and $2.75 million in fines.


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