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And the Band Played On: Reviewing Rule 54(b) Partial Summary Judgment Based on Who Did What to Whom and When

In a case where the cast of characters on both sides of the v. evolved during the lead-up to the litigation as the litigants negotiated third-party deals and formed new entities, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (characterizing the matter as the “entrepreneurial equivalent of musical chairs”) affirmed a dismissal of a trade secret claim against a foreign defendant but not against the related US entity, and found that the case qualified under Rule 54(b) for the “narrow exception” to the finality rule. Amyndas Pharmaceutical, SA v. Zealand Pharma A/S, Case No. 21-1781 (1st Cir. Sept. 2, 2022) (Barron, Selya, Kayatta, JJ.)

Amyndas is a Greek company with a US affiliate. It is a biotechnology firm that researches and develops therapeutics targeting a part of the immune system known as the complement system. One area of Amyndas’s research deals with “complement inhibitors.”

Amyndas’s research yielded compstatin, a peptide that selectively inhibits the C3 protein (which plays a role in activating the complement system). Amyndas also developed a related peptide (AMY-101) that targets that protein. Amyndas owns trade secrets and confidential information related to this work.

Zealand Pharma, a Danish biotechnology firm, contacted Amyndas about a potential partnership for the development of complement-related therapeutics. The firms entered into a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) regarding information-sharing “for the purposes of evaluating a possible business/services relationship between the parties and their respective Affiliates.” Amyndas started giving Zealand Pharma access to confidential information (including confidential information about AMY-101). The firms also entered into a second CDA—with added protections—for “the evaluation or formation of a possible business and/or services and/or collaborative relationship.”

Both CDAs included an identical “Governing Law” provision stipulating that the CDAs would “be interpreted and governed by the laws of the country (applicable state) in which the defendant resides” and a forum-selection clause stipulating that “any dispute arising out of th[e CDA] shall be settled in the first instance by the venue of the defendant.”

Zealand Pharma also began its own research program focused on complement therapeutics. It did not inform Amyndas of this initiative. Although negotiations continued, the firms ultimately decided not to collaborate. Amyndas later terminated its information-sharing relationship with Zealand Pharma.

Zealand Pharma later formed Zealand US, a Delaware corporation. Without Amyndas’s knowledge or consent, Zealand Pharma also filed two European patent applications for compstatin analogues and later an international patent application designating the United States and claiming priority to the earlier  EU applications.

After the international applications were published, Amyndas learned that they described “compstatin analogues that are capable of binding to C3 protein and inhibiting complement activation,” which had been the focus of Amyndas’s research and a subject of Amyndas’s confidential information-sharing with Zealand Pharma.

The other defendant, Alexion, is an established player in the complement therapeutics field and a proprietor of Soliris, a complement inhibitor that targets a protein in the complement system. Soliris is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and previously was the only FDA-approved and clinically available [...]

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For Certain Not Secret Now: Court Declines to Seal Alleged Trade Secret in Amended Complaint

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision declining to seal information in an amended complaint where the defendant failed to prove that the information was a trade secret. DePuy Synthes Products, Inc. v. Veterinary Orthopedic Implants, Inc., Case No. 20-1514 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 12, 2021) (Dyk, J.)

After DePuy sued Veterinary Orthopedic Implants (VOI) for patent infringement, the district court issued a protective order providing that “supplier . . . names and identifying information” would be treated as “Highly Confidential Material—Attorney Eyes Only.” DePuy later filed an amended complaint containing such information when it joined VOI’s manufacturer as a defendant. The amended complaint disclosed the manufacturer as such and alleged additional facts about the defendants’ relationship. VOI argued that the manufacturer’s identity and additional facts about the VOI-manufacturer relationship should be sealed as trade secrets. DePuy argued that the manufacturer’s identity was already public, but took no position regarding the additional facts. After the district court declined to seal the amended complaint, VOI appealed.

The Federal Circuit first considered whether it had jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine and whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion to seal.

The Federal Circuit found that it had jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine because:

  • The district court’s order conclusively determined the sealing issue.
  • The sealing issue was important although unrelated to the merits of the infringement claim.
  • Meaningful review after final judgment would be impossible because disclosed information can never be secret again.

On the merits, the Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion, reasoning that there was no clear error in the district court’s finding that the manufacturer’s identity was not a trade secret where (1) the manufacturer openly advertised itself as an orthopedic manufacturer, (2) the manufacturer and VOI did not have a confidentiality agreement or a confidential relationship giving rise to an implied obligation of confidentiality, and (3) a third-party email suggested that VOI’s relationship with the manufacturer was “known within the relevant community.” The Court further found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s declining to seal the additional allegations despite DePuy’s non-opposition because the district court was required to independently weigh the parties’ interest in confidentiality against the public right of access.

Practice Note: Parties routinely seek sealing of information that may not qualify as formal trade secrets. The district court’s duty to independently evaluate sealing means that parties must be prepared to articulate the particularized harm they will suffer absent sealing or risk the public disclosure of the information, even where the parties agree to treat information confidentially.




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