NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

Jeanne C. Fromer

Results

Machines as the New Oompa-Loompas: Trade Secrecy, The Cloud, Machine Learning, and Automation

Jeanne C. Fromer

In previous work, I wrote about how trade secrecy drives the plot of Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, explaining how the Oompa-Loompas are the ideal solution to Willy Wonka’s competitive problems. Since publishing that piece I have been struck by the proliferating Oompa-Loompas in contemporary life: computing machines filled with software and fed on data. These computers, software, and data might not look like Oompa-Loompas, but they function as Wonka’s tribe does: holding their secrets tightly and internally for the businesses for which these machines are deployed.

Computing machines were not always such effective secret-keeping Oompa Loompas. As this Article describes, at least three recent shifts in the computing industry—cloud computing, the increasing primacy of data and machine learning, and automation—have turned these machines into the new Oompa-Loompas. While new technologies enabled this shift, trade secret law has played an important role here as well. Like other intellectual property rights, trade secret law has a body of built-in limitations to ensure that the incentives offered by the law’s protection do not become so great that they harm follow-on innovation—new innovation that builds on existing innovation—and competition. This Article argues that, in light of the technological shifts in computing, the incentives that trade secret law currently provides to develop these contemporary Oompa-Loompas are excessive in relation to their worrisome effects on follow-on innovation and competition by others. These technological shifts allow businesses to circumvent trade secret law’s central limitations, thereby overfortifying trade secrecy protection. The Article then addresses how trade secret law might be changed—by removing or diminishing its protection—to restore balance for the good of both competition and innovation.

Patentography

Jeanne C. Fromer

Many critics have noted that patent litigation’s institutional structure is riddled with shortcomings that lead to unjust and inefficient outcomes and decrease public faith in the legal system. This Article relies on theory and empirical data to propose that the patent litigation system can be improved by harnessing patentography—the geography of patent disputes. There are three principal concerns with patent litigation’s institutional structure: widespread forum shopping in district court patent cases, district courts’ typically poor factfinding and lawmaking in these cases, and insufficient deference by the Federal Circuit—the court hearing nearly all patent appeals—to district courts’ factual findings. Harnessing patentography by restricting venue in patent litigation to the principal place of business of one of its defendants will help repair each problem. It will clamp down on forum shopping. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it will also improve district courts’ patent decisionmaking. As industries tend to cluster stably in discrete geographic areas, my proposed rule will tend to cluster patent cases by technology in particular districts, such as software cases in the Northern District of California and pharmaceutical cases in the District of New Jersey. Clustering together large numbers of an industry’s patent cases in a limited number of district courts will develop those courts’ proficiencies in patent law and in the underlying industry-specific facts critical to sound legal determinations. Under my proposal, this clustering will occur in districts in which judges and juries already tend to have background industry knowledge, given the associated industry cluster. An empirical review of patent cases filed in district courts in 2005 confirms that harnessing patentography as I propose would intensify patent litigation clusters. Finally, improving district courts’ decisionmaking ought to encourage the Federal Circuit to defer more appropriately to district courts’ factual findings.