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Techies and trial lawyers, those longtime rivals, are squaring off again as California lawmakers debate so-called anti-secrecy legislation that would significantly alter the rules of civil litigation — a proposal that high-tech executives say could expose confidential company information, stifle innovation and encourage frivolous litigation. TechNet, the lobbying network of technology CEOs that was spawned after a political battle with California trial lawyers in 1996, dispatched a representative to Sacramento on Tuesday to meet with lawmakers and assess the progress of the legislation. “It’s kind of on a fast track,” TechNet’s Connie Correll said. Consumer Attorneys of California and other supporters of Assembly Bill 36 and Senate Bill 11 said the legislation would prohibit secrecy agreements that are harmful to the public’s welfare. Information about defective products is often shielded from consumers, the group said, citing such examples as the deadly Bridgestone/Firestone/Ford tire defects, and cases over cracked heart valves and toxic chemicals in drinking water. The legislation would revise laws that allow parties in a civil lawsuit to ask state trial courts for protective orders to maintain the confidentiality of data obtained through civil discovery. The legislation would allow much of this information to become public. Opponents said the bills go too far. To keep internal information private under the proposed law, TechNet said, companies would be forced to claim and prove trade-secret status “for each and every item, such as business plans, organizational charts, research-and-development findings, software testing and manufacturing methodologies.” Another industry group, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, said the bills are “designed to expose proprietary business secrets to the entire world.” In a press release, TechNet CEO Rick White called the bills “the most significant threat to California’s technology companies since Prop. 211.” White was referring to the 1996 initiative that would have made company directors and high-ranking executives personally vulnerable to shareholder lawsuits. Venture capitalist John Doerr, who organized the successful opposition to Prop. 211, added: “TechNet is committed to working around the clock to defeat this legislation in order to preserve a business environment that favors innovation, not litigation.” Supporters of the legislation are diverse, including the Congress of California Seniors, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Sierra Club and the Consumers Union. White also said the legislation would be bad for California business amid a slowing economy. “Technology companies in California have already been hard hit by rising energy costs and a downturn in the economy,” he said. “California’s Legislature can’t afford to send an anti-business message to the rest of the nation.” Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Outage Leaves Exodus in the Dark Boeing Moves to Make the Skies Internet Friendly Bertelsmann Content With New 3G Strategy Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard
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