Trade Secret Claim Rains on Weather Channel
(CN) - The Weather Channel must face claims that it wrongfully used a licensor's trade secrets to build maps and develop weather products, a federal judge ruled.
Events Media Network agreed to give The Weather Channel Interactive (TWC) and its affiliates access to a continually updated database of various events and attractions throughout the country, starting May 1, 2008.
Although the content license agreement gave TWC the right to list the events on its websites, Events Media retained proprietary rights and imposed confidentiality requirements on the information - even after the contract expired on May 1, 2011.
Events Media sued the Weather Channel in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on March 27, 2012, claiming it knowingly used the database for purposes not permitted by the agreement, including building maps and developing weather products.
The complaint asserts numerous claims for relief and says TWC misappropriated the database - a trade secret under Georgia law - both before and after the agreement expired.
After the case was removed to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in May 2012 and transferred to New Jersey months later, the Weather Channel moved to dismiss the misappropriation claims for failure to state a claim.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler denied the motion Friday, holding that the database and other "compilations" are "the type of information specifically contemplated by the Georgia Trade Secrets Act as deserving of protection."
Events Media placed clear and well-defined limits on the dissemination of the database, the unpublished opinion states.
"Specifically, paragraph six of the content license agreement, entitled 'Confidentiality,' required general confidentiality in the relationship between the parties and required defendants to limit use of the database to those who required the information for the purposes agreed upon," Kugler wrote. "It further required reporting any inadvertent or improper use or disclosure of the database to plaintiff so that it could take appropriate remedial action. Although each individual who had access to the database was not required to sign an explicit confidentiality agreement, defendants themselves agreed to keep the database confidential. Taken as a whole, these limits on disclosure and assurances of confidentiality by defendants are sufficient to meet plaintiff's pleading burden that it took 'efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances' to maintain the secrecy of its database."
Kugler tossed the Weather Channel's claim that the database is public information with no independent economic value.
"Here, plaintiff compiled public listings to form a database," Kugler wrote. "The database itself has not been disclosed to the public at any point in time, and defendants were licensed to publicly post only the individual event listings, not the entire database. In addition, that defendants entered into a license agreement to purchase access to the database strongly suggests that they find it valuable. In general, it appears that plaintiff has created a business out of compiling public information into easy-to-use databases that it licenses to others for a fee. Thus, plaintiff's complaint contains sufficient allegations to show that its database may derive economic value from not being generally known to others."