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Wal Mart's Little Headache

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Wal-Mart's Little Headache

First the score: P.O. Market, $31.7 million; Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 0.

Now, the play-by-play: In 1992, P.O. Market, a three-person consulting firm in Little Rock, Ark., approached Wal-Mart with a clever idea. P.O. Market could serve as a "buffer" financing company between Wal-Mart and its largest customers. Using P.O. Market, Wal-Mart could offer credit to corporate buyers without adding to its own risk. It seems Wal-Mart liked the idea: The retailing giant took it, then gave the buffer business to another company, an Arkansas jury found.

In court, P.O. Market relied on trade-secret law, which protects novel, closely held ideas. The firm cited 1993 news reports describing the buffer plan as unique. P.O. Market lawyer James Wyly says he also presented a taped admission by a Wal-Mart employee that the idea for the buffer company began with P.O. Market. Wal-Mart calls the March verdict "mistaken" and says it will appeal.

For now, though, the little guys hold the ball.Edited by Kimberly Weisul

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