Sensitive Data Barred From Smartphone Trial

     (CN) – Apple and Samsung – usually bitter rivals locked in worldwide smartphone patent battles – joined forces to keep a lid on confidential data they were ordered to disclose for trial.
     San Jose-based U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh had ordered the two sides to unseal all exhibits used during a 2012 trial when a jury handed Apple a $1 billion verdict for Samsung’s infringement of iPhone and iPad technology. The tech giants face off again Nov. 12 after Koh tossed portions of the verdict because of jury error and ordered a retrial for damages.
     Throughout the first trial, both Apple and Samsung fought Koh – who pledged that “the whole trial is going to be open” – over the release of confidential sales information, source code, schematics, business plans, accounting procedures and market research. On the eve of that trial, the judge ordered the parties to unseal profit sheets, sales figures, revenues and costs, Apple’s proprietary market research, and licensing terms.
     Koh also invited the companies to immediately appeal her order to the Federal Circuit, and stayed her decision pending the outcome there. A three-judge panel of that court found Friday that Koh misapplied the 9th Circuit’s standards for sealing documents in the interest of the public’s right to know.
     “We are not aware of any 9th Circuit precedent applying the ‘compelling reasons’ standard to non-dispositive motions regarding the admissibility of evidence at trial,” Judge Sharon Prost wrote for the panel. “The district court’s reasoning – that the admissibility of evidence was a closely contested issue – does not justify departure from the 9th Circuit’s general rule. Indeed, evidence which a trial court rules inadmissible – either as irrelevant or inappropriate – seems particularly unnecessary to the public’s understanding of the court’s judgment.”
     Furthermore, both Apple and Samsung adequately demonstrated compelling reasons – the substantial risk of competitive harm – in their requests to seal the documents, according to the ruling.
     Judge Koh erred in not examining them further, the panel found.
     The ruling took no heed of friend-of-the-court arguments by the First Amendment Coalition, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Gannett, the New York Times, Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Post. Those organizations had said the public’s right to know and consumer interest commands the release of unredacted documents.
     Prost conceded “the importance of protecting the public’s interest in judicial proceedings and of facilitating its understanding of those proceedings.”
     “That interest, however, does not extend to mere curiosity about the parties’ confidential information where that information is not central to a decision on the merits,” he added. “While protecting the public’s interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties’ right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest.”
     Earlier this month, the same panel heard Apple’s appeal of Judge Koh’s decision allowing Samsung to continue selling the infringing products, despite the jury’s verdict. Meanwhile, in addition to the damages retrial in November, both sides will again face off in Koh’s courtroom – this time over claims that Samsung swiped features of Apple’s Siri voice assistant and a litany of Samsung counterclaims – in March 2014.

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