caltradesecrets.com

Publicly Visible “Images” and “Features” of Gaming Applications Not Trade Secret, Even If Source Code Kept Confidential

In Public Availability on February 17, 2012 at 6:20 am
MyFarm

MyFarm (Photo credit: Benjamin Pender)

In a slip opinion, District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the Northern District of California struck portions of trade secret allegations regarding certain gaming applications where those “images” and “features” were visible to the public. SocialApps, LLC v. Zynga, Inc., No. 4:11 CV 04910 YGR, 2012 WL 381216 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2012) (slip op.).

Background

Plaintiff SocialApps LLC (“SA”) sued Defendant Zynga Inc. (“Zynga”) for violation of the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“CUTSA”), copyright, and various other contract-based common law claims.  Id. Zynga moved to dismiss, inter alia, the CUTSA claim.  Id. Plaintiff alleged that it developed the first farming social network game to be accessed through Facebook.  Id.  The game was publicly released on Facebook in November 2008 as “myFarm.”  Id.  In May 2009, Zynga approached SA about acquiring the intellectual property rights and other information about myFarm, and the parties entered into a letter agreement on May 19, 2009.  Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Zynga violated the express terms of the agreement, as well as the implied understandings the parties had reached in connection with the agreement, by making use of the myFarm confidential source code, processes, and other information revealed pursuant to the letter agreement. Id. SA goes on to allege that Zynga thereafter used the confidential source code and other information it acquired from SA to create its own game, “FarmVille,” without SA’s permission and without compensating SA. Id.

Discussion

Zynga argued that SA’s second claim for misappropriation of trade secrets in violation of CUTSA should be dismissed because some of the information allegedly misappropriated was, at the time, publicly available to the world on the Internet. Id. SA alleged that Zynga misappropriated two types of information: (1) proprietary source code and (2) images and features for myFarm. Id. SA defined its trade secrets as including “its proprietary source code, images for myFarm and its various features.” Id.

SA alleged that the myFarm game was publicly released in November 2008.  Id. The court reasoned that “therefore the images and features were visible to the public several months before the May 2009 letter agreement or June 2009 release of FarmVille.”  The court noted that “Publicly available information, by definition, cannot be protected as a trade secret.” Id. (citing Cal. Civ. Code section 3426.1(d); DVD Copy Control Assoc. v. Bunner, 116 Cal.App.4th 241, 251-53, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 185 (2004)).

Accordingly, the court struck allegations in the trade secrets claim relating to “images for myFarm and its various features.”  Id.

Judge and Attorneys

District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

Graham Bruce Lippsmith, Thomas V. Girardi, Girardi & Keese, Milord A. Keshishian, Milord & Associates PC, Los Angeles, CA, for Plaintiff.

Claude M. Stern, Rachel H. Kassabian, Timothy Allen Butler, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Redwood Shores, CA, Larry W. McFarland, Keats McFarland & Wilson, Beverly Hills, CA, for Defendant.

By CHARLES JUNG

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