By Dan Levine
(Reuters) - Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd do not have to make public the financial details submitted to a U.S. court during high-profile patent litigation, a federal appeals panel ruled on Friday.
The Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington reversed a lower court ruling that ordered the two companies to disclose portions of documents that contain profit and sales information.
"We recognize the importance of protecting the public's interest in judicial proceedings and of facilitating its understanding of those proceedings," the three-judge appeals panel decided. "That interest, however, does not extend to mere curiosity about the parties' confidential information where that information is not central to a decision on the merits."
Representatives for Apple and Samsung declined to comment.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition - an advocacy group that argued in the appeals court to have the information disclosed - said he was disappointed in the outcome for the Apple/Samsung case.
However, Scheer said the ruling is not all bad for public access to court records. For instance, the ruling says companies cannot keep information secret in court merely by calling it a trade secret, and judges must scrutinize those secrecy requests, Scheer said.
"If all the cases that come after this one adhere loosely to the legal requirements articulated in this decision," Scheer said, "then those trials will be infinitely more open and transparent than otherwise would have been the case."
Apple and Samsung have been waging patent litigation across the globe since 2011, climaxing in a high-profile trial last year in San Jose, California. A jury awarded Apple over $1 billion, but U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh later slashed the award and ordered a retrial on some of the damages.
In the run-up to trial last year, attorneys for both sides submitted several documents to the court that contained financial details in order to calculate damages. The details were redacted, and Reuters filed motions in the court to unseal the documents.
Koh ruled against Apple and Samsung, saying the public's interest in understanding the proceedings outweighed the companies' rights to keep the information secret. However, the appeals court unanimously disagreed.
"While protecting the public's interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties' right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest," Judge Sharon Prost wrote.
The case in the Federal Circuit is Apple Inc vs. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al., 12-1600.
(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Ken Wills)