The plaintiffs instructed the defendant to make tools for the manufacture of leather punches in accordance with drawings which the plaintiffs provided to the defendant for this purpose. The defendant used the drawings to make tools, and the tools to make leather punches, on their own account. The finished product (i.e. the leather punches) were readily available to buy in the shops; and the defendants could have bought one and reverse engineered it. But they did not.
Held: Equity will protect trade secrets that have been divulged in breach of a confidential relationship, but the obligation not to use confidential information attaches only to information which has the necessary element of confidentiality and continues only so long as the information remains confidential.
Lord Greene MR said: ‘The defendants knew that those drawings had been placed in their possession for a limited purpose, namely, the purpose only of making certain tools in accordance with them, the tools being tools required for the purpose of manufacturing leather punches . . I need not go into the law, which I think is correctly stated in a formula which Mr Heald himself accepted. I will read it: ‘If a defendant is proved to have used confidential information, directly or indirectly obtained from a plaintiff, without the consent, express or implied, of the plaintiff, he will be guilty of an infringement of the plaintiff’s rights.” and
‘I think that I shall not be stating the principle wrongly if I say this with regard to the use of confidential information. The information, to be confidential, must, I apprehend, apart from contract, have the necessary quality of confidence about it, namely, it must not be something which is public property and public knowledge. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to have a confidential document be it a formula, a plan, a sketch, or something of that kind, which is the result of work done by the maker upon materials which may be available for the use of anybody; but what makes it confidential is the fact that the maker of the document has used his brain and thus produced a result which can only be produced by somebody who goes through the same process.
What the defendants did in this case was to dispense in certain material respects with the necessity of going through the process which had been gone through in compiling these drawings, and thereby to save themselves a great deal of labour and calculation and careful draftsmanship. No doubt, if they had taken the finished article, namely, the leather punch, which they might have bought in a shop, and given it to an expert draftsman, that draftsman could have produced the necessary drawings for the manufacture of machine tools required for making that particular finished article. In at any rate a very material respect they saved themselves that trouble by obtaining the necessary information either from the original drawings or from the tools made in accordance with them. That, in my opinion, was a breach of confidence.’
Lord Greene MR
 65 RPC 203
England and Wales
Cited – Venables and Thompson v News Group International, Associated Newspapers Ltd, MGN Ltd QBD 4-Dec-2001
An order had been made requiring all newspapers not to publish anything which might lead to the identification of the claimants or their whereabouts. The defendant newspaper published information as to their last known whereabouts. They argued that . .
Cited – Arklow Investments Ltd and Another v Maclean and Others PC 1-Dec-1999
PC (New Zealand) Land was offered for sale. A potential buyer, the appellant was approached by a merchant bank with a proposal for finance. When he sought finance elsewhere, a company associated with the bank . .
Applied – Suhner and Co AG v Transradio Ltd 1967
The claimants complained at the defendant having registered a company under the name ‘Suhner’. The defendants gave no justification for using the word ‘Suhner’ as part of their name. They claimed that they had the right to form a company in order to . .
Cited – EPI Environmental Technologies Inc and Another v Symphony Plastic Technologies Plc and Another ChD 21-Dec-2004
The claimant had developed an additive which would assist in making plastic bags bio-degradable. They alleged that, in breach of confidentiality agreements, the defendants had copied the product. The defendants said the confidentiality agreement was . .
Cited – Home Office v Hariette Harman HL 11-Feb-1982
The defendant had permitted a journalist to see documents revealed to her as in her capacity as a solicitor in the course of proceedings.
Held: The documents were disclosed under an obligation to use them for the instant case only. That rule . .
Cited – Coco v A N Clark (Engineers) Ltd ChD 1968
Requirememts to prove breach of confidence
A claim was made for breach of confidence in respect of technical information whose value was commercial.
Held: Megarry J set out three elements which will normally be required if, apart from contract, a case of breach of confidence is to . .
Cited – Douglas and others v Hello! Ltd and others (No 3) CA 18-May-2005
The principal claimants sold the rights to take photographs of their wedding to a co-claimant magazine (OK). Persons acting on behalf of the defendants took unauthorised photographs which the defendants published. The claimants had retained joint . .
Cited – London Regional Transport, London Underground Limited v Mayor of London Transport for London CA 24-Aug-2001
The claimants sought an interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants from publishing a report in breach of a contractual duty of confidence. This was granted but then discharged on the defendant undertaking only to publish a redacted version. . .
Cited – Mersey Care NHS Trust v Ackroyd QBD 7-Feb-2006
The trust, operators of Ashworth Secure Hospital sought from the defendant journalist disclosure of the name of their employee who had revealed to the defendant matters about the holding of Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, and in particular medical . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 04 June 2021; Ref: scu.182937