July 9, 2020
Over-designation of Confidential Information Costs Plaintiff Protection
In Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Apple, Inc., [2019-1922, 2019-1923, 2019-1925, 2019-1926] (July 9, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the district court’s denial of Uniloc’s motion to seal.
Uniloc asked the district court to seal most of the materials in the parties’ underlying briefs, including citations to case law and quotations from published opinions. It also requested that the court seal twenty-three exhibits in their entireties. These exhibits included matters of public record, such as a list of Uniloc’s active patent cases.
The Federal Circuit began by pointing to the strong presumption in favor of access to documents filed with a court. The Federal Circuit sorted the motions to seal into two groups:
- Documents with Uniloc’s own purportedly confidential and/or sensitive information and that of its related entities.
- Documents with purportedly confidential and/or sensitive information of third parties.
As to Uniloc’s information, the Federal Circuit found that because Uniloc failed to comply with local rules setting out the standards for filing documents under seal and requesting reconsideration, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Uniloc’s motions to seal its purportedly confidential information and that of its related entities.
As to third party information, the Federal Circuit noted that the third parties were not responsible for Uniloc’s filing of an overbroad sealing request, and required independent analysis. The Federal Circuit concluded that the district court failed to make findings sufficient to allow it to adequately assess whether it properly balanced the public’s right of access against the interests of the third parties in shielding their financial and licensing information from public view, and vacated and remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance.
Litigants with confidential information should realistically evaluate their information and attempt to only protect genuinely confidential information. It is a mistake to assume that the court will give free rein to designate information as confidential.