Temporary order certainly looks temporary


RBR/TVBR has obtained a copy of the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a federal judge to block former Clear Channel employee Andrew Friedman from going to work for Tribune Company. It is hardly a slam-dunk for Clear Channel, so it seems pretty likely that, one way or another, Friedman is going to be heading to Tribune.

US District Judge Joan Gottschall refused to issue a TRO against Tribune Company and affiliated Local TV LLC. She noted evidence that it was Friedman who made the initial outreach, not Tribune or Local TV, so the judge said Clear Channel had failed to make an initial showing that it was likely to succeed on its claim of tortious interference against those two defendants.

The judge did issue the TRO keeping Friedman from going to work for Tribune/Local TV, for now, and requiring him to return any confidential information to his former employer. However, she does not yet appear to be convinced that Friedman possesses anything that would constitute a trade secret. “Clear Channel has made an adequate (although hardly overwhelming) showing that it would succeed on the merits of its claim for a violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act,” the judge wrote. What may constitute a trade secret, she said, is the work Friedman did interpreting metrics, helping formulate a national strategy for interactive content and implementing the national strategy at a local level. “It is undisputed that Clear Channel has invested a significant amount of money in developing its interactive content business, that interactive content is a valuable new way of presenting information, and that, until it is published on the internet, strategies are competitive. It is less clear to what extent the various parties compete directly, what parts of Friedman’s job rely on general knowledge and skills, or how long strategic knowledge remains useful to a competitor given the rapid pace of internet business,” the judge wrote.

Along with the trade secret claims, the major issue to be decided is whether Friedman is barred from working for Tribune/Local TV for the remainder of this year under a non-compete clause. Friedman claims it is not applicable. Clear Channel claims it is.

RBR/TVBR observation: For those of us looking in from the outside, the most interesting issue in this case is who competes with whom in the rapidly evolving media world. Clear Channel is a radio/billboard company and Tribune is a newspaper/TV company. Except for Tribune’s lone radio station, WGN-AM Chicago, the two do not go head-to-head in any old media markets. But Clear Channel’s lawsuit insists that the interactive media world is wide open and that the two companies are direct competitors on the Internet. If this case actually goes to trial, we will be interested to see how that is decided.