Apple questioned in ‘Asteroid’ trade secrets case

“A case that could jeopardize the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and give companies more legal leeway to track down supposed leaks of trade secrets is now in the hands of a state appeals court. Apple Computer Inc. faced tough questions before a three-judge panel of the 6th District Court of Appeal on Thursday as it argued its case seeking to identify the sources who leaked confidential information about an unreleased product to online media outlets in 2004,” May Wong reports for The Associated Press.

“Apple contended the unidentified sources _ presumed to be company employees _ violated its trade secrets. It subpoenaed the Internet service providers of three online journalists to turn over e-mail records to uncover the possible sources. A lower court last year ruled in Apple’s favor but the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose attorneys represent the online journalists of AppleInsider.com, PowerPage.org and MacNN.com appealed,” Wong reports. “The appellate panel in San Jose questioned Apple’s stance, including its claim that the published diagrams of the unreleased music-related product code-named ‘Asteroid’ amounted to a trade secret. ‘t’s just a picture of a product, why is that a trade secret?’ asked presiding Judge Conrad Rushing. ‘This is just plugging a guitar into a computer.’ George Riley, an attorney representing the Cupertino-based maker of Macintosh computers and iPod media players, countered there were some technical details included with the diagrams, and argued the information leak constituted ‘a very serious theft.’ ‘The First Amendment is not supposed to be a shield for a journalist to shield criminal activity,’ Riley said.”

“The three online media outlets involved in the case all focus on Apple-oriented news and are part of the popular world of blogs. But members of the mainstream media, including The Associated Press, weighed in as well, submitting court briefs asking that the online publishers be allowed to keep their sources confidential. Apple’s lawsuit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court in late 2004, does not directly sue the three media outlets but rather 25 unnamed individuals called “Does” who presumably were Apple employees with access to the as-yet unreleased product,” Wong reports. “The appellate panel has up to 90 days to issue a ruling.”

Full article here.

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36 Comments

  1. Well 25 possible people at Apple could be moles.

    I’m sure Apple doesn’t expect to get anywhere with their lawsuits, just the fear factor might do some temporary good.

    I was always against sites posting inside Apple info relating to new products, it’s because it gives the competition more time to produce a clone before Apple has had a chance to recover their R&D.

    But it seems some sites think they are holier than thou and in publishing inside info some Mac sites are killing the golden goose who lays their golden eggs.

    Mac users were also are partially to blame, so addicted to the inside info that they didn’t realize what damage they were doing to their favorite company.

  2. Well. I’m glad I stopped waiting for this thing.
    I was beginning to wonder if the asteroid thing was just vaporware.
    Or is this a case of Apple getting pissy cuz someone let the cat out… So they’ve decided to take their ball and go home.

    Now I guess we’ll never see this alleged “asteroid” thing now.

  3. Certainly, any of the 25 “persons of interest” not engaged in lying and conspiracy would want their names cleared. No doubt some innocent persons’ livelihoods or careers may be irrevocably damaged by a few self-serving individuals who revealed confidential information for personal gain. These conspirators had no mercy or compassion for these innocent employees now under suspicion. I doubt that the First Amendment was intended to harm honest and law abiding citizens.

  4. It’s very hard to say Apple was harmed over this, especially since it appears they don’t plan to produce this product!

    Apple is generally a great company… except for their legal department. While Apple Legal might be competent enough, they – like most lawyers – lack ethics. Apple is simply on the wrong side in this case, i’m afraid. Most of the blotches tarnishing their otherwise fine reputation come from Apple Legal.

  5. Rainy Day, really!!!

    How would you feel if you spent considerable amount of your time, talent and money to design the world’s first iPod, just to have some money grubbing employee sell the plans to Microsoft or Creative and then as you unveil your new product to the world, your competitiors do the same?

    That’s the argument Apple has, protecting their intellectual property and finding those criminally responsible.

  6. Whatever “Asteroid” was supposed to be was cancelled due to the leak. The competition is aware of it now and plans to allow Apple to spend all the upfront money to market the product and then quickly slip in the door after them with a cheaper product.

    So Apple is stuck, do they go ahead and take the chance nobody will make a clone? or do they just cancel the product?

  7. Rainy Days:

    Should you lose your job, spouse, friends, or colleagues; are denied promotion; or refused transfer to a more lucrative or appealing department because you were falsely implicated in some illegal behavior, I hope that you will be a magnanimous citizen and thank the guilty parties for exercising their right as a free American to smear your reputation.

  8. It is immoral and unethical to withhold exculpatory evidence. The First Amendment is no exception to protecting guiltless citizens from harm or injury who are falsely accused or implicated in illegal or disreputable behavior. O’Grady is obligated to exonerate the innocent. Hey, Jason be a man.

  9. maczealot –

    You seem really invested in this whole “Asteroid” case. Is there a raw nerve concerning this story, or do you take everything so seriously?

    The Constitutional RIGHT to free speech, in my mind, certainly outweighs a corporation’s DESIRE to keep something secret, especially when that secret concerns some sort of musical gizmo. I mean, we aren’t talking about the schematics for a nuclear weapon.

    If somebody signed a contract with Apple, promising not to reveal any secrets, then breaching that agreement should carry real, toothy penalty, and it probably does. However, I don’t think Apple has the right to deputize journalists in their campaign to prosecute the offenders.

    Maczealot, feel free to respond to this, but try not to call me any nasty names. It hurts my feelings. I’m delicate, y’know.

  10. While I am usually a first amendment proponent, I would have to side with Apple on this. I think that online journalists should enjoy the same protections as print journalists or broadcast journalists. You can’t fault them just because the founding fathers didn’t predict the rise of the internet. However, I think that a “source” that provides a journalist news is completely different that a source that provides illegally released company secrets. If the source were to leak news that Apple had slave labor camps deep inside Cupertino (obviously illegal), the source would be right to release the info. It’s not a company secret in that respect; it is illegal, and it is news. Company trade secrets should not fall under the same protection.

    I’m sure that I’ll be painted as an Apple shill for this opinion. Yeah, I do love Apple, but I thought about it before I wrote this opinion: Would I think the same thing if Microsofties were releasing trade secrets? The answer is yes. So, that’s my opinion.

    G’nite.

  11. No, I think the first posts are more relevant. Likely APPLE will sell the r&d and design to another company to produce it for them, but scare the hell out of these ex-employees and try to put an end to the leaks. Apple has a right to defend their intelectual property and “trade secrets” just like any other company. I don’t think they are interested in putting these people away for good, they will probably settle but the fact that they obviously feel they have a strong case I feel bad for old Nick DePlume and those 25 employees cause the fact is if they are found guilty of these charges they likely will do quite a long stretch in the slammer… so good luck, and maybe think next time you decide to betray another company by divulging trade secrets…it’s just sad that with the information highway it can be a matter of nano-seconds to perpetrate a crime… truely sad…

  12. Moog:

    I find it difficult to believe that you would actually advocate that some guiltless person’s life or career should be ruined or placed in jeopardy all for, as you so eloquently stated, a “musical gizmo”. What kind of uncaring, indifferent, and callous person would justify causing long-lasting pain and suffering to an innocent person for a momentary thrill of reading a three hundred word essay? Well, I suppose that would describe you. Spare us your pretentiousness, constitutional theatrics, and exaggerated indignation. You have no respect for others and deserve none yourself.

  13. It never fails that the most depraved and most despicable members of society will attempt to justify, excuse, or defend harm to others by claiming some unqualified right of self-serving arrogance and self-importance. Moog’s indifference to the pain of others is confirmation that the gluttony of human indulgence is often sustained by the flesh of the innocent. While casually picking his teeth with the bones of the guiltless, Moog, will piously preach about his own moral superiority and unfaltering righteousness. He will expound extensively on his absolute devotion to his creed of self-gratification while begging accommodation for seeking his fleeting pleasures. However, if Moog ever feels that his own personal comfort or coziness is disturbed or at risk, he will cry unceasingly for others to relieve him of his anxiety or distress. What a small and pathetic world you live in, Moog, which exists only as far as your arms can reach.

  14. Moog,

    How did a corporation’s RIGHT get relegated to a DESIRE?

    “If somebody signed a contract with Apple, promising not to reveal any secrets, then breaching that agreement should carry real, toothy penalty, and it probably does.”

    It’s called a Nondisclosure Agreement, and all employees of any “idea” company sign one. That’s how a company secures it’s RIGHT to trade secrets.

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