Trade Secrets, Contractual Relationships and a Historic Outcome

A Summit County jury, in conjunction with the judge’s attorney fee award, has recently returned a $9.5 million award to a local company, the largest such award in the county’s history (a prior, larger case was overturned on appeal). Jeffrey T. Witschey and Elizabeth L.B. Hartschuh, of the Fairlawn firm Witschey Witschey & Firestine, represented the plaintiff, Phoenix Lighting.

“Trade secrets can be cases involving technology, but can also be cases concerning customer lists, or about the relationships of two entities, rather than the subject matter of the secrets,” said Jacqueline Lipton, a David L. Brennan Professor of Law at The University of Akron School of Law and director of the school’s Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology.

This case, she said, seemed to have more to do with the relationships of the parties than what was specifically the trade secret. And that relationship, she said, was contractual in nature, and therefore the action was a contract action, based upon local law, rather than a federal case.

Hartschuh said that from the beginning of the litigation a primary component of the defense’s case was to “turn the paper mill on us”—to the extent that a part of the evidence the plaintiffs submitted in support of their fees was a letter written by defendant’s lawyers stating that they would essentially bury the plaintiffs in motions.

Excerpted from The Akron Legal News article entitled: Small Summit County firm vets record jury award

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