A good intersection of patents and trade secrets was found in Life Spine v. Aegis Spine. Many people view patents and trade secrets as mutually exclusive, but reality is much less clear.
Life Spine makes a spinal implant device, and Aegis agreed to be their distributor. Aegis also agreed to keep details of the implant confidential and not reverse engineer the product, but instead shared information with their parent company and helped them develop a competing device.
Life Spine sued Aegis for trade secret misappropriation and breach of the distribution agreement, and was granted a preliminary injunction against Aegis. On appeal, Aegis argued that Life Spine publicly disclosed the implant through its patent application, and by displaying and selling the implant.
The district court found that patents and trade secrets can co-exist. Life Spine’s patent did not disclose the final commercial dimensions of their product, and that Life Spine kept tight control over their device during and after sale. The distributors were even required to be present during the surgery. Life Spine took many measures to protect the precise dimensions of their product.
Additionally, while Life Spine spent three years developing their product, the competitor only took three months to apply for FDA approval.