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High Court Keeps Commercially Sensitive Product Information Secret

Litigation often requires disclosure of highly sensitive commercial details. However, as one intellectual property case concerning a mapping database showed, the courts do have sophisticated means of keeping such information under wraps.

A company had spent over £500,000 developing what it described as a unique and ground-breaking database of geospatial and other information, giving details to its customers of buildings, their coordinates and other attributes. The product, however, had become the focus of somewhat strained relations between the company and Ordnance Survey Limited (OSL), the government agency responsible for the official, definitive topographic survey and mapping of Great Britain.

The company launched proceedings, seeking, amongst other things, a declaration that its product does not infringe any database or copyright belonging to OSL and an injunction restraining the latter from making any allegations to the contrary. The case also raised issues as to whether the product breached any prior licence or contractual agreement between the company and OSL.

By their very nature, the proceedings would involve analysis of confidential details concerning the product and the parties had agreed that all those who would need access to such information should join a 'confidentiality club' that was designed to prevent leakage of the company's secrets into the public domain. The facts of the case emerged as the High Court granted leave for the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and another representative of that body, to join the club.

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    Although in principle court proceedings are public, it is sometimes justifiable for business confidentiality or public interest reasons that some evidence is not put in the public domain. This is particularly so when intellectual property is at the root of the issue. For advice in conducting any dispute and minimising the related commercial risks, contact us.

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    The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.