Computer Care v. Service Sys. Enters., Inc., 982 F.2d 1063 (7th Cir. 1992) (full-text)
Plaintiff, Computer Care, is a company that works with car companies and other service-oriented businesses dealing with cars, such as oil change shops and repair shops. Plaintiff generates letters that are sent out to their customers every month to remind them when they need to bring in their cars for repair or maintenance. It also reports to the car companies about the success of their venture.
When Plaintiff entered the market in Chicago in June of 1989, it hired Timothy Riordan and Patrick O'Rourke as salesman for the area. Mr. Riordan told the soon-to-be president and vice president of defendant Service Systems Enterprises inc. all about plaintiff's business. He disclosed, "copies of Computer Care's sample reminder letter, its sales brochures, its computer-generated monthly reports, its sales presentation book and other materials that Computer Care sales representatives make available to customers." Plaintiff sued defendant for misappropriation of its trade dress, misleading advertising and misappropriation of its trade secrets.
Appellate Court Proceedings
The Court of Appeals held as to the trade dress claim that the lower court was correct in determining that there was a trade dress violation because plaintiff's trade dress was (1) distinctive (2) likely to cause confusion as between the two products and (3) not functional.
Regarding the misleading advertising, the court found that an injunction should have issued, especially considering the lower court's finding that the misleading advertising claim was actionable, but its lack of any relief for plaintiff, without reason, limited the court's ability to review. The court remanded this claim for further consideration by the lower court.
As for the trade secret violation, the court held that there was no protectable trade secret and as such there could be no violation. The court held that the use of multiple triggers for when a car needed maintenance was not a protectable secret. The court held that even if the types of triggers could be deemed a trade secret there was insufficient proof of their existence for the lower court to issue a preliminary injunction. Further, the ruling of the lower court protected not just plaintiff's specific twelve triggers but any type of system with more than one trigger, and the court of appeals held that this was not a valid trade secret.
Further the court held that the use of adjustable service cycles was not a novel idea, and even had it been, it would lose any guise of protection once a customer requested that notifications be sent out on an altered timeline.
Finally, the court held that tracking cars other than by their license or VIN number was not a misappropriation of a trade secret, nor was the issuance of a second reminder letter, or the removal of non-responsive recipients from a mailing list. The court held that all of these individual features on their own or in conjunction were not sufficiently complex as to prevent replication based on publicly available information. As such the court held that there was no trade secret and thus no way to misappropriate it.
- 982 F.2d at 1066.