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Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 02:48 pm PT (05:48 pm ET)

Court questions unsealing of Apple v. Samsung documents in secrecy hearing

Media advocacy groups and news organizations may face a tough struggle to unseal sensitive financials and other secret documents in future coverage of high-stakes litigation, as a federal appeals court hearing related arguments from the Apple v. Samsung jury trial expressed skepticism over how crucial the information is to the public interest.

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The question before the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is whether or not to uphold Judge Lucy Koh's ruling that Apple and Samsung, in the course of their long-running patent dispute, had to reveal certain financial information for inspection by the court and the public. Reporting on the matter, Reuters notes that the three-judge CAFC panel did not seem particularly swayed by the argument that unsealing such information is critical to the public interest.

""You really seem to be saying that a trade secret is the formula for Coke and not much else," Judge William Bryson said. "If there are investors out there who are very interested in the (sealed financial data), are they part of the public interest?" Bryson said he believed such knowledge wouldn't affect one's perception of the fairness of the proceeding.

While Judge Koh allowed the two companies to keep trade secrets, like source code and patent licensing deals, sealed, the jurist ordered financial and other deemed sensitive data be revealed.

Apple and Samsung agree that the court should restore the seals on the requested information. The two rivals argue that, were the court to uphold Judge Koh's order, it could have rippling effects on future intellectual property disputes that could see a move away from the court system.

Arguing for access to the information is an array of media groups and free speech advocates, including publishing heavyweights The New York Times and Bloomberg. They contend that access to sealed information is essential for the public interest, as the information provided in the documents helps the public to understand the judicial process and why one company may win over the other.