Memorial Day Weekend Edition: Century-Old Third Circuit Opinion on Warship Documents Shows Courts’ Historic Hostility Toward Trade Secrets

This Memorial Day weekend, we would like to stop and honor the sacrifice that American servicemen and women have made, and take a brief look at an early case involving the military and trade secrets.

In 1910, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision involving a contract with the United States Navy and a dispute over the disclosure of documents related to the construction of destroyers.  At the time of this decision, European powers had begun an arms race that would later escalate, and geopolitics were causing tensions that would lead to the First World War.

In re Grove, 180 Fed. 62 (3rd Cir. 1910) originated as a patent case, and a dispute arose as to whether Henry Grove, president of the defendant shipbuilding company, was in contempt for refusing to produce copies of plans and specifications for the Navy destroyers.  Grove had refused to produce the documents on the advice of counsel, on the grounds that disclosure would harm the public interest by disclosing military secrets, and would result in the unnecessary disclosure of trade secrets.  The Navy’s advertisement for bids had contained numerous requests that information related to bids be kept confidential.  The Secretary of the Navy had also stated that disclosure of the documents “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” READ MORE