In our prior post, we discussed what constitutes unlawful use of trade secrets, who bears the burden of proof, and how evidence can be collected to prove trade secret misappropriation under Belgian law.
Today’s post, which is the fifth and last in our series where we spotlight international issues in trade secret law, looks at two final questions:
1) Protection of trade secrets during court proceedings: who is allowed inside the “confidentiality club”?
A “confidentiality club” may sound rather like a speakeasy, but it is not. For those readers who are not particularly familiar with this area, we will first explain the problem for which the “confidentiality club” attempts to provide a solution. A thorny issue during court proceedings to enforce trade secrets is that the holder of the trade secret sometimes has to reveal more than they would like in order to increase the chances of success. This is often the reason why claimants are deliberately vague about the exact contents of a trade secret, or about where exactly the trade secret value resides. This comes usually with the risk that the claim will be dismissed for failure to meet the burden of proof. It is, understandably, not an attractive option to draw up briefs providing detailed information about the trade secret when it is not clear how much secret information has actually been stolen or is in the possession of the defendant. This would simply provide the contested information on a silver platter to the defendant. A similar problem arises with the pleadings and decisions of the court. Because, as a general rule, court hearings are public in Belgium, interested competitors could be in the audience to listen to everything that is being disclosed about the litigated trade secrets. However, for judgments and decisions to be based on correct reasoning and, above all, for them to be intelligible to parties not involved in the proceedings, judgments will have to include minimum information about the trade secrets. When transposing the Trade Secrets Directive, the Belgian legislator tried to meet this sensible concern by setting out a general protection scheme in Article 871bis of the Belgian Judicial Code. Article 871bis of the Belgian Judicial Code can be applied not only in proceedings about trade secrets, but also in other proceedings where a trade secret is used as evidence and must be submitted for the assessment of the court. Among the measures listed in Article 871bis of the Belgian Judicial Code are the possibility to issue redacted versions of court decisions and, of course, to set up so-called “confidentiality clubs.” These refer to the limited groups of persons who are, in certain cases, given access to certain documents shared in the proceedings and/or at certain hearings (and the relevant reports) during which trade secrets will be discussed.