Ho v. Taflove, No. 10-2144 (7th Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
One defendant was a research assistant for one of the plaintiffs, an engineering professor, when the professor developed a mathematical model of how electrons behave under certain circumstances. The assistant switched to a different research group without returning a notebook. The plaintiff-professor retained a new assistant, who continued the work and shared some of her material with the defendant. The defendants submitted a symposium paper and an article, describing the model and its applications. The district court rejected copyright claims and state law claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the materials were not protected by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 102(b) because the model is an idea. The Act protects the expression of ideas, but exempts the ideas themselves from protection; the equation, figures and text are the only ways to express this idea, and, under the merger doctrine, these expressions are not copyrightable. Because state law conversion and fraud claims were the equivalent to assertions under the Act, those claims are preempted. A claim of trade secret misappropriation could not survive on the merits.