E.I. duPont deNemours & Co. v. Christopher
431 F.2d 1012 (5th Cir. 1970)

  • DuPont was building a chemical factory that involved some innovative equipment designs. They maintained security to stop people from entering the facility. However, a competitor (rumored to be BASF) hired Christopher to fly over the construction and take lots of photos.
    • The idea was that the competitor could use the photos to recreate the layout of the plant.
  • DuPont sued Christopher for misappropriation of a trade secret.
    • Christopher made a motion to dismiss, claiming that they were flying in public airspace and doing nothing illegal by taking the photos.
  • The Trial Court found for duPont. Christopher appealed.
    • Christopher argued that in order for there to be misappropriation of a trade secret there must be trespass, other illegal conduct, or breach of a confidential relationship.
      • There was nothing illegal about flying in a public airspace and taking photos, so how could they be accused of wrongdoing for looking at something that was in plain sight?
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was a cause of action for the discovery of a trade secret by improper means.
    • The Court found that duPont had taken reasonable precautions to keep their designs secret.
      • It would have been unreasonable to ask duPont to cover their half-built factory with a temporary roof during construction. Also, it was unforeseeable that someone would take photos from the sky, so duPont couldn't be expected to guard against it.
    • The Court found that while a person may learn a trade secret by reverse engineering a publicly available product, one may not avoid doing the work themselves and merely take the process from the from discoverer without his permission at a time when he is taking reasonable precautions against his discovery.
  • In general, in order to have a trade secret you must show that:
    • You had information that had value.
    • That value is increased by keeping it secret.
    • You have taken 'reasonable efforts' to keep the information secret.