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
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
That value is increased by
keeping it secret.
You have taken 'reasonable
efforts' to keep the information secret.