Microsoft vs Google trial raises concerns over secrecy

Fri Nov 2, 2012 2:20pm EDT
 
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By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two weeks before a high-stakes trial pitting Google's Motorola Mobility unit against Microsoft, Google made what has become a common request for a technology company fighting for billions of dollars: A public court proceeding, conducted largely in secret.

Google and Microsoft, like rivals embroiled in smartphone patent wars, are eager to keep sensitive business information under wraps - in this case, the royalty deals they cut with other companies on patented technology. Microsoft asked for similar protections in a court filing late on Thursday.

Such royalty rates, though, are the central issue in this trial, which begins November 13 in Seattle.

U.S. District Judge James Robart has granted requests to block many pre-trial legal briefs from public view. Though he warned he may get tougher on the issue, the nature of the case raises the possibility that even his final decision might include redacted, or blacked-out, sections.

Legal experts are increasingly troubled by the level of secrecy that has become commonplace in intellectual property cases where overburdened judges often pay scant attention to the issue.

Widespread sealing of documents infringes on the basic American legal principle that court should be public, says law professor, Dennis Crouch, and encourages companies to use a costly, tax-payer funded resource to resolve their disputes.

"There are plenty of cases that have settled because one party didn't want their information public," said Crouch, an intellectual property professor at University of Missouri School of Law.

Tech companies counter that they should not be forced to reveal private business information as the price for having their day in court.   Continued...

 
An employee rides her bike past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann