Amazon's contract to run a staffed pickup and drop off location at Purdue is ruffling a few feathers. The NACS (National Association of College Stores) is suing Purdue University to force it to reveal all of the details from the contract it signed with Amazon.
NACS had recently filed a public document request and asked for a copy of the contract, but the document arrived with multiple pages redacted. Citing the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, Purdue said that the redacted sections covered Amazon's trade secrets and could not be disclosed.
The trade group disagreed, and filed suit last Tuesday. The NACS argues that the redacted materials constitute public records that the university must release upon request. It supported its arguments ny pointing out that the NACS had obtained similar information from the contract Amazon had signed with the University of California-Davis in late 2011.
I'm not sure that's a good argument.
Just because UC Davis may have disclosed information it should have redacted, that doesn't mean that Purdue is in the wrong. What's more, the deal Amazon struck with UC Davis is quite different from the one signed with Purdue.
The Purdue University deal involved Amazon acting as a surrogate college bookstore by installing a staffed unstore on campus, while Amazon's deal with UC Davis is closer to being an affiliate deal.
UC Davis gets a cut of purchases made by UC Davis students on Amazon.com, but continues to operate the on-campus bookstore. Amazon has also leased space to install lockers on the UC Davis campus, but that is closer to a real estate lease agreement than a contract containing trade secrets.
But in the case of the Purdue contract, that could well contain operational details which do indeed count as trade secrets.
I will definitely be following this lawsuit. Amazon beat out a number of other companies, including Follett and Cenage, to secure the Purdue deal. The contract they signed will likely reveal clues about Amazon's intentions, and it will offer hints on the deals that Amazon might strike with other schools.
The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, for example, is currently letting companies bid on running a virtual college bookstore on campus. According to the documents I obtained, that store is going to replace the college bookstore with a location quite similar in concept to the unstore which Amazon has at Purdue.
Trade secrets are nothing new, and in fact the Indiana law does say that they are exempt from disclosure requirements. But the public also has an interest in learning the details of public contracts, so it will be interesting to see which way the judge rules.