Facts:

Petitioner Air Philippines Corporation is a domestic corporation engaged in the business of air transportation services.  On the other hand, respondent Pennswell, Inc. was organized to engage in the business of manufacturing and selling industrial chemicals, solvents, and special lubricants.

Respondent delivered and sold to petitioner sundry goods in trade. Under the contracts, petitioner’s total outstanding obligation amounted to P449,864.98 with interest at 14% per annum until the amount would be fully paid.  For failure of the petitioner to comply with its obligation under said contracts, respondent filed a Complaint for a Sum of Money on 28 April 2000 with the RTC.

In its Answer, petitioner alleged that it was defrauded in the amount of P592,000.00 by respondent for its previous sale of four items. Petitioner asserted that it was deceived by respondent which merely altered the names and labels of such goods. Petitioner asseverated that had respondent been forthright about the identical character of the products, it would not have purchased the items complained of.

Moreover, petitioner alleged that when the purported fraud was discovered, a conference was held between petitioner and respondent on 13 January 2000, whereby the parties agreed that respondent would return to petitioner the amount it previously paid.  However, petitioner was surprised when it received a letter from the respondent, demanding payment of the amount of P449,864.94, which later became the subject of respondent’s Complaint for Collection of a Sum of Money against petitioner.

During the pendency of the trial, petitioner filed a Motion to Compel respondent to give a detailed list of the ingredients and chemical components of the following products. The RTC rendered an Order granting the petitioner’s motion.

Respondent sought reconsideration of the foregoing Order, contending that it cannot be compelled to disclose the chemical components sought because the matter is confidential.  It argued that what petitioner endeavored to inquire upon constituted a trade secret which respondent cannot be forced to divulge.

The RTC gave credence to respondent’s reasoning, and reversed itself. Alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the RTC, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with the Court of Appeals, which denied the Petition and affirmed the Order dated 30 June 2004 of the RTC. Petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied. Unyielding, petitioner brought the instant Petition before SC.

Issue:

W/N CA erred in upholding RTC decision denying petitioner’s motion to subject respondent’s products to compulsory disclosure.

Held:

No. The products are covered by the exception of trade secrets being divulged in compulsory disclosure.  The Court affirms the ruling of the Court of Appeals which upheld the finding of the RTC that there is substantial basis for respondent to seek protection of the law for its proprietary rights over the detailed chemical composition of its products.

The Supreme Court has declared that trade secrets and banking transactions are among the recognized restrictions to the right of the people to information as embodied in the Constitution. SC said that the drafters of the Constitution also unequivocally affirmed that, aside from national security matters and intelligence information, trade or industrial secrets (pursuant to the Intellectual Property Code and other related laws) as well as banking transactions (pursuant to the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act), are also exempted from compulsory disclosure.

A trade secret is defined as a plan or process, tool, mechanism or compound known only to its owner and those of his employees to whom it is necessary to confide it. The definition also extends to a secret formula or process not patented, but known only to certain individuals using it in compounding some article of trade having a commercial value. American jurisprudence has utilized the following factors to determine if an information is a trade secret, to wit:

(1) the extent to which the information is known outside of the employer’s business;

(2) the extent to which the information is known by employees and others involved in the business;

(3) the extent of measures taken by the employer to guard the secrecy of the information;

(4) the value of the information to the employer and to competitors;

(5) the amount of effort or money expended by the company in developing the information; and

(6) the extent to which the information could be easily or readily obtained through an independent source.

Rule 27 sets an unequivocal proviso that the documents, papers, books, accounts, letters, photographs, objects or tangible things that may be produced and inspected should not be privileged. The documents must not be privileged against disclosure. On the ground of public policy, the rules providing for production and inspection of books and papers do not authorize the production or inspection of privileged matter; that is, books and papers which, because of their confidential and privileged character, could not be received in evidence. Such a condition is in addition to the requisite that the items be specifically described, and must constitute or contain evidence material to any matter involved in the action and which are in the party’s possession, custody or control.

In the case at bar, petitioner cannot rely on Section 77 of Republic Act 7394, or the Consumer Act of the Philippines, in order to compel respondent to reveal the chemical components of its products.  While it is true that all consumer products domestically sold, whether manufactured locally or imported, shall indicate their general make or active ingredients in their respective labels of packaging, the law does not apply to respondent.  Respondent’s specialized lubricants — namely, Contact Grease, Connector Grease, Thixohtropic Grease, Di-Electric Strength Protective Coating, Dry Lubricant and Anti-Seize Compound — are not consumer products.

What is clear from the factual findings of the RTC and the Court of Appeals is that the chemical formulation of respondent’s products is not known to the general public and is unique only to it.  Both courts uniformly ruled that these ingredients are not within the knowledge of the public. Since such factual findings are generally not reviewable by this Court, it is not duty-bound to analyze and weigh all over again the evidence already considered in the proceedings below.

The revelation of respondent’s trade secrets serves no better purpose to the disposition of the main case pending with the RTC, which is on the collection of a sum of money.  As can be gleaned from the facts, petitioner received respondent’s goods in trade in the normal course of business. To be sure, there are defenses under the laws of contracts and sales available to petitioner.  On the other hand, the greater interest of justice ought to favor respondent as the holder of trade secrets. Weighing the conflicting interests between the parties, SC rules in favor of the greater interest of respondent.  Trade secrets should receive greater protection from discovery, because they derive economic value from being generally unknown and not readily ascertainable by the public.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s