Monday, March 9, 2009

OT: A paean to the New York City subway

A federal appeals court ruling issued today contains an interesting tribute to New York City's transit system:
The question presented in this case—whether a manufacturer who likely misappropriated trade secrets may be preliminarily enjoined from (a) entering into contracts that will cause it to use those trade secrets and (b) disseminating further those trade secrets—concerns a rarely celebrated but instantly recognizable feature of everyday life in New York City: subway brakes. To the parties in this case, subway brakes are known as “Brake Friction Cylinder Tread Break Units” (“BFC TBU”). For the rest of us, BFC TBU are “that loud squeaking, sparking braking system that so reliably stops the New York City Transit subway system.” In re Faiveley Transp. Malmo AB, 522 F. Supp. 2d 639, 640 (S.D.N.Y. 2007). Twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year, the City’s subway cars safely stop at 468 passenger stations—and, as any straphanger knows, many times in between—depositing riders of all classes and descriptions at homes, workplaces, ballparks, and every other destination imaginable. See generally MacWade v. Kelly, 460 F.3d 260, 264 (2d Cir. 2006) (“The New York City subway system . . . is an icon of the City’s culture and history, an engine of its colossal economy, a subterranean repository of its art and music, and, most often, the place where millions of diverse New Yorkers and visitors stand elbow to elbow as they traverse the metropolis.”).

The subway is an indelible feature of the City’s culture. Its legend and lore fascinate locals and visitors alike. See, e.g., Carrie Melago, It’s the Rail Thing: Subway Ride Record is Official, N.Y. Daily News, Aug. 8, 2007, at 24 (reporting that six alumni of Regis High School set a new world record for stopping at all 468 stations on a single fare: 24 hours, 54 minutes, and 3 seconds). A point of personal pride for many New Yorkers, the City’s subterranean transit has appeared in song, on stage and screen. See, e.g., Leonard Bernstein, et al., “New York, New York,” from On the Town (“New York, New York—a helluva town, / The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down, / And the people ride in a hole in the ground; / New York, New York—It’s a helluva town[!]”), as quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations 329 (Ned Sherrin, ed., 1995) (attributed to Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyricists). The subway’s rhythm and sound have also rumbled into the canon of American literature. See, e.g., Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities 36 (Farrar Straus Giroux 1998) (1987) (“On the subway, the D train, heading for the Bronx, Kramer stood in the aisle holding on to a stainless-steel pole while the car bucked and lurched and screamed.”).

Moving forward, our next stop is the trade secret dispute concerning the distinctive brakes used by the New York City subway system.
The plaintiff in this case is the new owner of the company that initially developed MTA's noisy but effective braking technology. The company they originally licensed to produce and market that technology is now under a contract with MTA to use that know-how to overhaul the system. The plaintiff claims this company is misappropriating its trade secrets, and sought to stop them from disclosing or even using this technical knowledge - and ultimately to substitute itself in the MTA contract. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that while the contractor probably was misusing trade secrets, it was not appropriate to order them to cease work for MTA using the knowledge, because there was not proof the secrets themselves were likely to be disclosed in the course of carrying out the contract.

If you think maintenance on the MTA is a pain in the ass now, just imagine if this decision had gone the other way. H/t How Appealing.

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