Reverse burden of proof and trade secrets in patent litigation – Part one

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Background – lack of protection

For a long time in many European countries, pharmaceutical compounds were not eligible for patent protection. Prior to the adoption of TRIPS, there were actually 22 countries in which the protection of pharmaceutical compounds was unavailable. Innovative pharmaceutical developers were only able to indirectly try to protect their pharmaceutical product by protecting the process for manufacturing the product. At the time, some states made efforts to compensate for the lack of product protection in different ways. In Finland, you could apply for a so called “analogous process patent”, by which you were able to get a patent for if you had developed a new product, but the scope of protection was, odd as it may seem, nevertheless restricted to the manufacturing process.

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Decompiling the rules on trade secrets, software and reverse engineering

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My last post concerned trade secret litigation (read it here), and since I am (at least momentarily) quite fascinated by the subject of trade secrets, I decided to do a follow-up post on another topical issue in this field. In trade secret law, two types of behavior are generally considered to be allowed: i. independent discovery and ii. reverse engineering. Especially the latter sparked discussion in the EU with the arrival of the new Trade Secrets Directive (2016/943) (“TSD”). Reverse engineering is allowed based on Art. 3 (1) (b) and recital 16 of the TSD. Recital 16 of the TSD stipulates that

“[…] Reverse engineering of a lawfully acquired product should be considered as a lawful means of acquiring information, except when otherwise contractually agreed. The freedom to enter into such contractual arrangements can, however, be limited by law.”

Let’s pause here for a moment and decompile this provision:

  • Main rule: If you lawfully acquire a product, you may reverse engineer it.
    • Exception: Reverse engineering is not allowed if it has been contractually agreed that such behavior is not permitted.
      • Exception to exception: However, the freedom to enter into such an agreement restricting the permissibility of reverse engineering may be restricted by law. This, in a sense, takes you back to the main rule in the first bullet point.

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Shhh….Keeping the Secret Secret and Trade Secret Litigation

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“Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone”

(Queens of the Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret)

I doubt Josh Homme was thinking about trade secrets when he wrote the above lyrics, but there’s some valuable “legal advice” hidden in those lines. Namely, as often pointed out, once a trade secret is out, it may be lost forever.

Indeed, the secret maybe lost but not necessarily given away for free. Trade secret legislation is designed particularly for these unfortunate situations. Once the secret is out, you may not be able to get it back in the bottle again. But you may be able to stop further spreading of the secret and at least get some damages from the perpetrator. This will usually mean you will have to go to court for enforcement. And this is where it may get a bit tricky: Alas, in order for the enforcement to be successful you will probably have to disclose your secret. That doesn’t sound very tempting if your trade secret is valuable, does it? Continue reading “Shhh….Keeping the Secret Secret and Trade Secret Litigation”