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Foster v. Pitney Bowes Corp.

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 12-11-2013
Case #: 2013-1374, 2013-1444
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Full Text Opinion: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/13-1374.Opinion.12-5-2013.1.PDF
LexisNxis Link: 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 24577
Westlaw Link: 2013 WL 6484327

Trade Secrets: Patents: Publication by the Patent Office destroys any trade secret protections for the information contained in the patent application.

Opinion (Per Curiam): In May 2007, Fredrick Foster ("Foster") submitted a provisional patent application for his “Virtual Post Office Box/Internet Passport” ("VPOBIP") system. The concept required applicants for VPOBIPs to confirm their identity at local post offices. Those who had a VPOBIP would then have the VPOBIP badge affixed to their emails. The scheme was intended to reduce internet fraud because those who had a VPOBIP had gone through an in-person identity confirmation process. Because Foster did include a nonpublication request in his application, the Patent Office made the application public on December 4, 2008. The Patent Office issued a rejection of the application on June 24, 2011. While his patent application was being processed, Foster made inquiries with several government officials about the practicality of implementing his VPOBIP system in partnership with the US Postal Service. As part of his inquiries, Foster outlined his system to the President of Postal Relations at Pitney Bowes. In early 2011, Pitney Bowes launched the website “Volly.com.” In November 2011, Foster claiming that volly.com contained ideas stolen from his patent application and sued Pitney Bowes for fraud, conversion, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets. The district court ruled on the pleadings in favor of Pitney Bowers. Foster appealed. To make out a prima facie case of trade secret misappropriation, a plaintiff must show that the information was secret. By allowing his patent application to be published, Foster destroyed any trade secret protections to the information contained in his patent application. Foster claimed that he provided additional information, not included in the patent application, to Pitney Bowes. Foster did not plead, however, that he entered into a confidentiality agreement with Pitney Bowes or that Pitney Bowes knew that they were receiving secret information as the result of a confidential relationship. Because Foster took no pains to protect the additionally information he disclosed to Pitney Bowes, his disclosure destroyed the secret nature of that information as well. Thus, because Foster had no secret to be misappropriated, the court AFFIRMED the judgment in favor of Pitney Bowes.