Friday, May 04, 2012

Free Exercise Clause Does Not Bar Court From Deciding Whether Trade Secret Was Misappropriated

Art of Living Foundation v. Does, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61582 (ND CA, May 1, 2012) is a copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation case brought by foundation that teaches the wellness and spiritual lessons of Ravi Shankar, including courses on breathing, meditation, and yoga. One of the defendants posted copies of the Foundation's teaching materials on his blog. The court held that it could decide the trade secret claims without being required to interpret Hindu beliefs or other religious teachings.

Defendants argue that the alleged trade secrets are merely conventional Hindu mystical claims, and that insofar as the Foundation claims it has added novel elements to traditional Hindu concepts, determining this "would ensnare the judicial system in questions of religious doctrine" in contravention of the 1st Amendment's free exercise clause. The court, however, disagreed concluding that it can determine the trade secret status of the materials just as it would any secular work by comparing the material to what is generally known to the public, considering whether plaintiff derived economic value from the nondisclosure, and evaluating whether plaintiff took reasonable measures to maintain the secrecy of the information. Quoting from an earlier case, the court said:
"While the trade secret laws did not necessarily develop to allow a religion to protect a monopoly in its religious practices, the laws have nonetheless expanded such that [a religious entity's] techniques, [if] 'used in the operation of the enterprise,' are deserving of protection if secret and valuable."
The court then added:
A defendant cannot deprive a plaintiff's materials of trade secret protection simply by invoking the Free Exercise Clause through allegations that the materials overlap with religious doctrinal principles.