A federal court in New Orleans has allowed a trade secret claim to proceed to trial, even though the alleged trade secrets were disclosed in a patent application. Cajun Servs. Unlimited, LLC v. Benton Energy Serv. Co., No. 17-0491 (R. Doc. 241).
The lawsuit concerns Cajun’s patented elevator roller insert system (ERIS), which is a technology used in drilling for oil. Before filing its patent application, Cajun agreed to rent ERIS to Benton Energy. While renting ERIS, Benton Energy hired a third party to reverse engineer ERIS, using drawings and prototypes supplied with the rented system. Cajun eventually filed its patent application for ERIS while still renting the system to Denton Energy.
Cajun initially brought claims for trade secret theft and unfair trade practices. Once a patent was granted for ERIS, Cajun added a patent infringement claim against Benton Energy.
In response, Benton Energy filed a summary judgment motion on Cajun’s trade secret claims. Benton Energy attempted to argue that trade secret claims failed as a matter of law because Cajun publicly disclosed the ERIS technology in its patent application. That is, the information could not be a trade secret because it was no longer a “secret” since it was disclosed in the patent application.
The court disagreed. It noted that “publication of the ‘862 Patent application does not deprive Plaintiffs of a cause of action for misappropriation of trade secrets before the patent application was published.” In other words, the subsequent patent application did not absolve Benton Energy from liability for any misappropriation that occurred before the patent publication.
A non-provisional patent application in the U.S. is normally published eighteen months after its earliest priority date. A non-publication request may be made to prevent publication of the non-provisional application. This holding confirms that before publication, the information disclosed in a patent application may still be afforded trade secret protection.