“There is no doubt that within the 500- plus pages of manuals at issue, there are a host of materials which would fall within the public domain. … Yet, when all the cleaning procedures, temperature settings, safety protocols, and equipment calibrations are collected and set out as a unified process, that compilation, if it meets the other qualifications, may be considered a trade secret.
“Contrary to defendants’ suggestion, 3M is not attempting to preclude Accu-Tech from folding cardboard boxes. Rather, the company is seeking to prevent Accu-Tech from using and disclosing a process which it took the company six years and considerable income to perfect. These manuals and processes, even if comprised solely of materials available in the public domain, have been created by combining those materials into a unified system which is not readily ascertainable by other means. Thus, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to 3M, we believe there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that 3M has a trade secret in the operating procedures, quality manuals, trade manuals, process standards and operator notes for using 3M’s equipment that makes resin sheeting.
“Turning to the issue of misappropriation, we agree with the district court that there was sufficient evidence to support a powerful inference that defendants used 3M’s operating procedures and manuals in establishing Accu-Tech’s operations. While it took 3M six years and countless resources in order to make its carrier tape operation efficient and profitable, Accu-Tech was able to almost immediately operate its resin sheeting line effectively. Furthermore, evidence adduced at trial established that there are significant similarities between 3M’s carrier tape line and Accu-Tech’s resin sheeting line, including the use of the same or similar equipment and materials. Moreover, testimony at trial suggested that Accu-Tech was disclosing to 3M customers and competitors processes detailed in 3M’s manuals. As the district court stated, ‘[t]he inference is virtually inescapable that defendants gained a significant head start in their operation by using the trade secret knowledge they learned from plaintiff concerning the operation and standards for the line.’ We agree that when this evidence, along with all the reasonable inferences that may be drawn from it, is viewed in the light most favorable to 3M, it constitutes sufficient support for the jury’s verdict. As such, we affirm the district court’s denial of Accu-Tech’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue.”
Affirmed in part, and reversed in part.
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Shabaz, J., Flaum, J.