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An obligation not to disclose may arise from circumstances other than communication in confidence by the employer. It may also rest upon an express or implied agreement.
The Mincom Division of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (“Mincom”) developed an improved precision tape recorder and reproducer. Somewhat later, Winston Research Corporation (“Winston”) developed a similar machine. Mincom alleged that the Winston machine was developed by former employees of Mincom, including Johnson and Tobias, by using confidential information which they had acquired while working on the Mincom machine, and sued for damages and an injunction. The district court granted Mincom an injunction, but denied damages. The trial court found that the general approach taken by Mincom’s former employees in developing Winston’s machine was not a trade secret because it consisted of general engineering principles in the public domain. However, the specifications of the basic mechanical elements and their relationship to each other as embodied in Mincom’s machine were not publicly known and were arrived at only after extensive research by Mincom. The district court found that such specifications constituted Mincom’s trade secrets that were improperly utilized in developing Winston’s machine. Both sides appealed.
Was the injunction to enjoin disclosure of a trade secret for the period of time during which it would take a competitor to develop a competing product after the holder of the trade secret has disclosed it publicly proper?
The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's judgment with modifications striking certain language that unduly restricted appellants' legal conduct. The duration of the injunction was approved as based upon the approximate time that it would require a legitimate competitor to develop a successful machine after public disclosure of the secret information. The Court modified the injunction to remove provisions prohibiting the use of personal knowledge by the former employees because the provisions were too broad and indefinite to be enforced.