Apple and GT

Judge orders secrets revealed in Apple's sapphire supplier bankruptcy

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Documents Apple wanted kept under wraps to be filed in the public record on Friday

A federal bankruptcy judge on Tuesday ordered that virtually all the information Apple and its former sapphire supplier had wanted kept secret be placed in the public record by noon ET on Friday, Nov. 7.

At the same time the order was handed down, Apple and New Hampshire-based GT Advanced Technologies -- the latter the company that hoped to produce massive amounts of scratch-resistant sapphire to protect iPhone displays -- announced that they had amended their earlier agreement to strike its secrecy and document shredding clauses.

GT and Apple agreed to a partnership last year under which the former would produce sapphire at an Apple-owned Arizona plant. Apple agreed to loan GT $578 million so that the latter could equip the factory with the necessary sapphire-growing furnaces.

The deal unraveled this fall because of cost overruns and production issues that cost GT more than $900 million. GT filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 protection on Oct. 6.

The original settlement cut most ties between the two companies by terminating all previous contracts, and allowed Apple to recoup the $439 million it had already given GT through sales of all sapphire-producing furnaces that GT sold over the next four years. That included the more than 2,000 furnaces in place at the Arizona factory.

Apple will be paid between $200,000 and $290,000 per furnace.

Also in that agreement were clauses that required GT to keep under wraps several filings with the bankruptcy court, including one that went into detail about the company's collapse. Another settlement requirement demanded that most copies of those documents be destroyed.

Most experts anticipated that those documents would spell out, perhaps in antagonistic detail, GT's side of the story, which would likely blame Apple for its problems. In fact, a revised summary filed by GT last week was highly critical of Apple, although in many places it did not name its partner, for ordering poorly-performing sapphire finishing equipment for the factory, for refusing to renegotiate payment for the sapphire when it proved impossible to meet Apple's timetable and specifications, and for deciding not to equip the factory with backup power. That last decision resulted in the loss of millions in sapphire when power was interrupted several times.

On Tuesday, the former partners amended that settlement. "[GT] today announced that it has signed an amendment to the Settlement Agreement with Apple under which both parties have agreed to waive the condition that GT's October 8th declaration be kept under seal and expunged," the company said in a statement.

GT and Apple did not make the change without prompting. Last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Henry Boroff said he was going to unseal the documents Apple wanted kept secret, but promised he would re-read them over the weekend to see if there was anything within them he thought were truly trade secrets.

Tuesday, Judge Boroff filed his order to unseal the documents, citing "presumption of public access" to justify the disclosure of what Apple wanted kept quiet. He made some exceptions, saying that a Master Development and Supply Agreement between Apple and GT would remain sealed.

Everything else must be made public on Nov. 7.

"Often in large bankruptcy cases of technology companies, there are confidentiality issues," said Irena Goldstein, a partner with the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, in an earlier interview about the GT bankruptcy. Goldstein has considerable experience in handling Chapter 11 cases. "What was unique here is that Apple was clearly central to the bankruptcy."

Goldstein and a Proskauer colleague, Tim Karcher, said that they could not recall a case where the debtors -- in this instance, GT -- were prevented from telling creditors the cause of a sudden liquidity crisis.

Although Goldstein declined to speculate in detail, she made the same assumption that many other observers, including industry and financial analysts, had. "One of the things I assume may be in the sealed documents is [GT's] point of view as to its relationship with Apple," she said.

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