In 1980, Kontron Elecktroniks of West Germany purchased three state-of-the-art computer-aided design systems from GTCO Corp. of Maryland. To help with the installation and implementation of the machines, GTCO provided confidential trade-secret information to Kontron. Shortly thereafter, Kontron began manufacturing and selling its own version of the system, using GTCO's technology.
Last month, despite Maryland's lack of a trade-secret law, a U.S. District Court jury in Maryland decided Kontron and affiliated companies had misused the confidential trade secrets. The court is deciding damages for GTCO.
While the Uniform Trade Secrets Act was embraced by the Virginia legislature because of the additional protection it offers high-tech companies, Maryland seems to rely on its common-law statutes. The act has been killed twice in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Delegates.
"I don't think the law would have helped in this case because it tends to pick up general principles and put them all in one place," said Paul Richter, the attorney for GTCO.
But that doesn't mean, he said, that he believes Maryland has no use for the law. "Especially in the areas of software and electronics," Richter said, "statutory law has been inadequate. And federal copyright laws are not adequate. And the patent process takes too long."
He added that he believes the law would offer additional protection.
GTCO's computer-aided design machine is a high-resolution, electromagnetic digitizer that allows architects, draftsmen and interior desiners to "draw" electronically and store the drawings on computer discs or reproduce them with computer pen plotters.