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Direct Tech. v. Electronic Arts

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant Electronic Arts, Inc., in a copyright infringement and trade secrets case. Electronic Arts, maker of The Sims, a computer game, contracted with a production company to produce a USB flash drive shaped like a “PlumbBob,” a gem-shaped icon from the game. That company contracted with Direct Technologies, LLC, to produce a prototype. Electronic Arts approved the prototype but had the flash drives produced by a company in China. Direct Technologies sued under the Copyright Act and the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Reversing as to the copyright infringement claim, the panel held that the district court erred in ruling as a matter of law that the flash drive was not sufficiently original when compared to the PlumbBob icon to qualify for copyright protection as a derivative work. The panel held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Direct Technologies’ cut-away design for removing the flash drive from the PlumbBob object was sufficiently non-functional and non-trivial to warrant copyright protection. There was also a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Direct Technologies was sufficiently in control of its artistic contribution to qualify as a joint author in the flash drive prototype. DIRECT TECH. V. ELECTRONIC ARTS 3 Affirming as to the trade secrets claim, although relying on different grounds than the district court, the panel held that Direct Technologies’ contribution to the PlumbBob USB drive, a design for the flash drive’s removal from the PlumbBob object, did not derive independent economic value from not being generally known to the public. The panel also held that the district court did not clearly err or otherwise abuse its discretion in denying Electronic Arts attorneys’ fees for the trade secrets claim.

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