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E.I. du Pont de nemours v. Rolfe Christopher

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Rolfe Christopher
431 F.2d 1012 (5th Cir. 1970)
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Facts: DuPont? sued the Christophers alleging that the Christophers had wrongfully obtained aerial photographs revealing DuPont’s? trade secrets which they then sold to an undisclosed 3rd party. DuPont? argues that it developed a highly secret but unpatented process for producing methanol and that the aerial photographs taken by the Christophers was the plant designed to produce methanol by this secret process. Because the plant was still under construction, parts of the process were exposed to view from directly above the construction area and DuPont? alleged that a skilled person could deduce the secret process for making methanol

o The lower court found in favor of the Christophers because there were none of the traditional things you would find in a misappropriation, such as—trespass, outright theft, or breach of a confidence.
 In other words, the lower court found that there was nothing illegal about flying overhead in the plane and taking pictures.

o On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the misappropriation element is much broader, including more than just illegal conduct.
 Here, DuPont? did enough to protect its trade secret and requiring DuPont? to add a roof over its site during construction would have been requiring too much.
 The Court doesn’t want to burden companies that are innovating. The Court wants companies to build and develop and the Court recognizes that this is a misappropriation and breaches standard of commercial morality.

Rule: One who discloses or uses another’s trade secret, without a privilege to do so, is liable to the other if:
i. He discovered the secret by improper means, or
ii. His disclosure or use constitutes a breach of confidence reposed in him by the other in disclosing the secret to him.

Issue: Whether aerial photography of plant construction is an improper means of obtaining another’s trade secret?

Holding: Yes, aerial photography of plant construction is an improper means of obtaining another’s trade secret.

Black Letter: To obtain knowledge of a process without spending the time and money to discover it independently is improper unless the holder
i. Voluntarily discloses it; or
ii. Fails to take reasonable precautions to ensure its secrecy



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