The Alabama Supreme Court has directed a trial court to vacate its order allowing one of the plaintiff’s experts to access “flesh-sensing technology” developed by a bench-saw manufacturers’ joint venture, including the defendant. Ex parte Delta Int’l Mach. Corp., No. 1091049 (Ala., decided July 29, 2011). The issue arose in a case involving a portable bench saw that allegedly amputated one of the plaintiff’s fingers and caused other hand injuries when the blade came into contact with his hand while he was using it. The parties agreed to a protective order to ensure that certain confidential materials would not be released to the plaintiff’s expert witness, who was employed by the defendant’s competitor, which was not part of the joint venture.
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion to inspect, seeking access to all saws equipped with the flesh-sensing technology and “any and all flesh sensing technology developed by the Joint Venture.” The trial court rejected the defendant’s claims that the technology was irrelevant and confidential and that its competitor’s employee should not have access to it. The supreme court agreed with the defendant that the technology was irrelevant, citing the testimony of one of the joint venture representatives indicating that the technology did not actually exist for the type of saw at issue when it was manufactured. The court also determined that the technology was protected as a trade secret given the confidentiality agreements among the joint venture’s participating companies and the details missing from publicly available materials related to the technology.