Unexpected Twist In UConn Trade Secrets Case

Ann McClure's picture
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Connecticut's open records watchdog unexpectedly softened its position Monday during arguments before the state Supreme Court about whether the University of Connecticut can treat databases it creates as trade secrets and deny the information to the public.

Freedom of Information Commission lawyer Clifton A. Leonhardt caught the justices by surprise Monday when — in a case with implications for the licensing of research — he departed from a position taken earlier by the commission and conceded that UConn, as a research institution, probably has a right to create and protect trade secrets.

Previously, in a written decision and in briefing papers filed with the state's high court, the commission argued that a public entity such as the university is not entitled to keep trade secrets because it is subsidized by the public and, as a result, is not dependent for its survival on income derived from trade.

Leonhardt's argument was another twist in a nearly 4-year-old case that has generated conflicting legal interpretations, within the commission and later in state court. On its face, the case deals with innocuous lists of people who support the university or take advantage of its programs. But the ramifications would be broader if the case were applied to the university's ability to protect income-generating science.

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